Sunday, August 5, 2012

The View from Dao

Scott Bradley


I have taken "the view from Dao" as a means to expressing that transcendent view which is the essence of Daoism. Needless to say, it is not that view, but only seeks to point to and suggest what that view might entail.

Dao, in this instance, is a point of view. It does not exist except as a point of view. It is important to begin with this understanding — here, Dao is a perspective, nothing more.

By "point of view" is meant, not an opinion, but a metaphorical place providing a vista. It is a way of viewing the world and of being in it.

It follows that to participate in this vista, one must actually be there. But there is no "there"; one must be the vista-ing.

So, the view from Dao is a way of being in the world. It is perspectival in the sense that it is a way of 'seeing' the world. It is transcendent in the sense that one sees the world more broadly and from a 'higher' point of view. Although in the world, one is not of it in the same old way.

I have previously used the example of ants to get a sense of this transcendence. Let's say we study ants. Ants are fascinating insects. Their social organization is incredibly complex and their species specific diversity extensive. There are carnivorous army ants and leaf cutting herbivores. If you have spent time in a tropical forest, you may have been fortunate enough to see a moving green highway of cut leaves on the way to the colony (and not to have encountered army ants on the march).

As scientists we are fascinated by all ants and do not judge between them; there are not good ants and bad ants, realized ants and ignorant ants, worthy and unworthy ants. We are able to do this because....we are not ants. Were we leaf-cutting ants, surely we would have a bias against army ants.

What would it be like to view the world of humanity from that same perspective? Imagine. This, in part, would be the view from Dao. But how could we be this view since it would seem to require that we not be human? “Dao is inhumane”, which is to say, not “human”. Zhuangzi had a debate with Huizi along these lines. He declared the sage beyond the “normal human inclinations”. Huizi replied that this would then render her non-human. Zhuangzi answered that, on the contrary, in going beyond a narrow-minded and insular attachment to humanity, she has realized her humanity in a fuller sense. This fuller sense is not one in which humanity is transcended, but rather one’s egoic identification with it. It is not about humanity, but about one’s individual sense of being a fixed-identity which requires identification with humanity in such a way that one discriminates between its rights and wrongs, its worthies and unworthies. Transcendence is freedom from the bondage to the particular which enables the fullest participation in the particular.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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