Friday, October 26, 2012

The Grand Transparency

Scott Bradley

There is a story in the sixth chapter of the Zhuangzi in which Yen Hui, Confucius' favorite disciple, comes to his master three times to report on his 'progress'. The first and second times he declares himself to have forgotten key Confucian moral imperatives, most importantly, goodness and righteousness. 'Confucius' is pleased with Yen's progress, but tells him he has yet to truly "get it".

On his third appearance, however, Yen declares himself to "have sat-forgetting", and this startles his master who asks what this might mean. Yen responds that (I paraphrase) he has forgotten his own body, the existence of the world, and all his so-called knowledge, and this has rendered him "identical with the Grand Transparency (of nature)." (Watson)

Confucius immediately realizes that, not only has Yen "got it", but he has gone beyond his own attainment. "Once you're identical (with nature)", he exclaims, "you must be free of prejudice! Once you're transforming (with nature), you must be free from fixation!" Confucius then declares himself ready to be Yen's disciple.

This is, I believe, one of the clearest suggestions of what "free and unfettered wandering" might involve. "The Grand Transparency of nature" may be the 'truth' of nature, that it is free of every trace of discrimination, whether moral or hierarchical, and every similitude of permanence, but it is rooted in the experience of the human mind. It is not an objective 'fact' about nature, but an experience of the nature of human possibility. Were it a 'fact', there would be no transparency.

The experience of the Transparency of nature is contingent on two things, the forgetting of all opinions and the release of one's grasp on fixity. Opinions, the meat of our minds, dearly beloved and cherished, render us opaque and at odds with things as they are. "Do not seek Truth, only cease to cherish opinions," says the Xin-Xin Ming. All is in flux, ever-transforming, there is nothing fixed, not the world, not the universe, not "Being", and most importantly, not our identity. This unfixedness-of-self-identity is much more than a realization that we shall 'pass away'; it is the realization that there was never anyone to 'pass'. This is the pivot upon which the realization of transparency turns. And this is why Zhuangzi sums it all up saying, “It’s just being empty, nothing more.”

This is a possibility for the human experience, nothing more. It has nothing to do with salvation; it is not an ‘answer’ to the great questions of life. And it is entirely optional.

This is where Zhuangzi and Nietzsche part company. Both understand the need for the devaluation of all values, but whereas Zhuangzi does so to attain transparency, Nietzsche goes on to create new values in their stead. Nietzsche revels in self (“Why I Am Destiny”); Zhuangzi revels in no-fixed-self at all. Who’s to opine that one is ‘better’ than the other.

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

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