Thursday, October 18, 2012

There and Back Again

Scott Bradley

With his negative critique of knowledge, language and morality, it is easy to fall into the trap of believing that Zhuangzi opposed them; he did not. Like all human functions, they have their place. He does not tell us we need not use our reason and learn; he does not tell us to trample on the moral conventions of others. Quite the contrary, he suggests a freedom in which we are able to affirm all of what it is to be human and to harmonize with every human expression. "When on earth, do as the earthlings do."

The Zen "mountains are mountains" motif is well-known for a very good reason; it demonstrates how the negative critique of the conventional perspectives that bind us allows us to transcend them without dismissing them. The disciple begins by believing that "mountains are mountains", discovers that "mountains are not mountains", and finally realizes that "mountains are mountains" again. Once you get there, you able to freely come back again. A very similar sequence can be found in the Zhuangzi. Daoist freedom is never understood as an absolute rejection of anything; it is rather the inclusion of everything.

Realizing the limits of reason, we do not reject reason; we perfect it. For the perfection of anything is for it to properly understand its boundaries and thereby to occupy them fully. Understanding that moral law arose to constrain the lawless and that it is an entirely human preoccupation, we do not become lawless; we discover a 'morality' which is the expression of who we are, one which arises from within and is not imposed from without, and this allows us to follow along with the conventional morality of others. (Part of this process is the realization that we have internalized the external; we have taken conventional morality onboard in such a way as to believe that the tyrannical reign of right and wrong within us is the authentic expression of our humanity. Whether this begins with 'potty-training' or not, the idea that it could be suffices to show us that it is imported from somewhere.)

To stop half-way in this ascent to freedom is to fail of freedom. The Daoist vision of freedom is of a transcendence capable of understanding the relativity of all things while embracing them fully. Yes, we walk two roads.

Since space remains, and I have spoken again of Daoism, let me reiterate that we (I presume to speak for the others) are not 'Daoists', but those who find in philosophical (non-religious) Daoism an insightful vision of the potential for greater freedom which informs our own unique and individual visions.

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

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