Friday, November 16, 2012

Dwelling In the Favorable

Scott Bradley


In the previous post I chose to discuss being "situated in timeliness" as expressed in Zhuangzi's assessment of sagacity as seen in Laozi. The Daoist sense of timeliness is completely unconditional, having absolutely nothing to do with circumstances; every moment is just as it 'should' be. To be "situated in timeliness" is thus solely a function of one's attitude in the world. Yet there is another, perhaps more compelling, way in which he expressed the same idea: "dwelling in favorableness".

Laozi is dead, and his distraught mourners have apparently utterly failed to realize his teaching, by "forgetting what we have received from nature" (Zhuangzi 3:5; Mair). What we have received is not only life, but also death. To truly affirm the one requires that we also affirm the other. All this distress is "what the ancients called “the punishment of fleeing from nature". Kick at the brambles and you will get pricked.

"[T]he master's coming was timely," writes Zhuangzi, and "his going was favorable." These were timely and favorable because that's what happened and when; that's all.

The realization of this in one's life is the philosophical Daoist's vision of sagacity: "One who is situated in timeliness and who dwells in favorableness cannot be affected by joy or sorrow." To "dwell in favorableness" is the Daoist recipe for happiness. Once again, actual circumstances, whatever happens, are deemed timely and favorable, however apparently negative they might otherwise appear to be. How is this possible? The sage has surrendered into and completely affirmed the Totality. She has "hidden the world in the world" where nothing could possibly be lost (or gained), where all is well. Put more prosaically, she is an eternal optimist.

How, then, could one be "affected by joy or sorrow"? Easily; and hopefully, thoroughly. Only for the one who dwells in favorableness, these emotions do not "enter the Numinous Reservoir", that innermost pool of calm awareness where the heart is surrendered into the giftedness of all that is.

Zhuangzi, when he lost his wife, tells us that at first he grieved deeply, but then he put her passing into its proper perspective and was thereby relieved of excessive, debilitating sorrow. A Zen disciple was distressed to hear his master scream while being murdered by bandits, only to be told he was a fool if he did not realize that freedom from emotion is to be enabled to express it freely. Laugh when you laugh and cry when you cry, but above all remember that both are favorable and rooted in the favorable.

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

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