Friday, August 3, 2012

The Ring of Truth

Scott Bradley


The Zhuangzi is clearly the work of many hands and presents several philosophical points of view which are not always in mutual agreement. Though there are helpful perspectives in them all, I personally have chosen to adopt and adapt that point of view developed in the Inner Chapters (1-7), thought to be the work of Zhuangzi himself, and largely the inspiration for the rest. (As there is some debate as to the authorship of even these chapters, it might be helpful to restate that the actual authorship is of little importance.)

The fact that one must ultimately choose between philosophies, whether developed by another or by oneself, is in itself informative. (It might be argued otherwise, but this would be equivalent to saying one need not choose where one is, though one must nonetheless be somewhere.) On what basis does one make this choice? Surely, there are too many 'reasons' to innumerate here, and of these, there are certainly many of which I have no idea, in any case. But though the criteria for making one's choice are important, perhaps still more important is the fact that a choice needs to be made at all.

Informed as I am by the Zhuangzian vision, what becomes immediately clear is that one does not choose on the basis of what is true, but on the basis of what is most effective according to one's needs. Zhuangzi's relativism acknowledges first the right of each point of view to express itself, and secondly, the rightness of each for the individuals who adopt it. This means, among other things, that one's choice is between alternative upaya, 'skillful means' to effect an end, not between the true and the false.

Still, there are those points of view which have the "ring of truth" about them, and those that do not. But how and where one hears that ring remains in itself largely subjective. Zhuangzi's "Illumination of the Obvious" is the effective means by which I listen for that ring. The thing most immediately "obvious" to Zhuangzi, and that from which this criterion emerged, is just this understanding of the relativity of all points of view. It is obvious that we do not know anything that could rightfully be called Truth. It is obvious that we are all essentially adrift. It is obvious that every point of view is merely an accommodation to reality as perceived and not an encapsulation of Reality itself. But this is just one point of view, albeit the one I have chosen.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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