Tuesday, October 16, 2012


Scott Bradley

Sometimes I have to remind myself who I'm primarily writing for — and it isn't you. The fact is, I am not going to understand what Ge (Affirmation as Liberation) means by wuwu, or anything else, unless I articulate it for myself, and I do that here. But I'm obviously conflicted, or I wouldn't bring it up; I fear all this seemingly theoretical blabber will put you off, as it does me, unless I can see through to how it matters. In this instance I think it can.

Ge suggests that Laozi introduced Non-Being (wu) as the ground of Being (you). It is the empty space that makes a cup, a house, a window, a wheel hub useful. Non-Being is identified with Dao and a cosmological metaphysics is born. This became the trend in subsequent Daoist philosophizing until Guo Xiang (252-312) who insisted that Non-Being could not, by definition, be the source of anything. All things are self-so (ziran), the spontaneous source of themselves. But Guo arrived at this conclusion through his reading of Zhuangzi (399-295 BCE) who, according to Ge, had already deconstructed Laozi's metaphysics through his negation of wu with wuwu, "not-nothing" — either.

I don't know about you, but my mind immediately turns away from these kinds of discussions, but I think we might find this one helpful. The first thing that needs to be said is that wuwu is absolutely not intended as a further contribution to the metaphysical discussion; it is not some transcending synthesis of wu and you; it is a declaration that the whole discussion is spurious in that it presumes to know what it cannot. Wuwu returns us to not-knowing.

But why is not-knowing so important? Though I've frequently given formulaic answers to this question, I still struggle to articulate it. This is probably because it is something to be experienced, not understood. To answer the question of why not-knowing is important, I close my eyes and experience it.

What do I experience? An invitation; the heart is drawn to respond as matter to a vacuum. Openness; the mind floats unfixed and free. Surrender; the heart is released in trust into an undifferentiated vastness. Fearlessness; the world is hidden in the world, nothing can be lost. Affirmation; experientially affirming this wondrously unfixed ever-transforming reality, all things are affirmed. Thankfulness; it feels really good and thankfulness arises.

Under what rubric can we place this? Cognition? Certainly not. Spirituality? Yes, if this is understood not to refer to spirit or Spirit, but simply to self-transcendence. Psychological? Most certainly; this is a human activity and its one aim is to realize greater peace and happiness. How could ‘truth’ or redemption have anything to do with it? If this sticks in your craw, good, you’ve found the edge and the great point of divergence between possible philosophies of life.

Do ways of faith and truth offer similar possibilities? Certainly; for those who can still believe.

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

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