Monday, November 12, 2012

Extending De

Scott Bradley


In the previous post I made mention of Ames' ("Knowing in the Zhuangzi"; Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi) discussion of how philosophical Daoism understands de as a particular focus within the larger field of dao. One's own unique expression is that focus and the expression of de is the fulfilling of that expression. This speaks to the uniqueness of each thing, but nothing exists except in an interdependent context; the fulfilling of de requires integration with that larger context.

The experience of "making the tally whole", of realizing the unity of self and a particular other, of creditor and debtor, is this integration and what Ames means when he speaks of the "extension of de." If we stop there, however, we may envision the extension of de as a kind of spiritual imperialism, where one de subsumes all others, but this is far from the case. Extended de is "coextensive" de. The creditor who integrates with the debtor becomes herself that debtor as well as creditor. Creditor and debtor are thereby canceled out and become one and equal.

The extension of de is not possible unless there is "the absence of a 'dis-integrating' discreet self", writes Ames. Again he states, "The Daoist texts, like their Confucian counterparts, see resistance to the emergence of a discriminating self, as a precondition for integrative natural action and the extension of one's de that follows from it." Philosophical Daoism always brings us back to this necessary movement beyond our insular egoic selves as a precondition to a larger harmony. We have typically settled with being 'less' (a discreet ‘self’) rather than 'more' (of unfixed identity and larger unity) for fear that 'losing oneself' can only mean loss.

The 'place' where coextensive realization of equality and unity takes place is Dao. This is Dao as experience; it is innocent of ontological or cosmological significance. This experience is sometimes signified as datong, variously translated as "The Great Transparency", "The Great Thoroughfare", "The Great Openness", or as in Ziporyn (and apparently Mair) who prefer a variant (huatong) found in the Huainanzi, "The Transforming Openness" or “The Transformational Thoroughfare”, respectively.

It is a similar word (daotong) which Ge Ling Shang renders "Dao throughs as One". All these variations need not put us off as if we were in search of a clearly defined ‘thing’; instead, they can help us to gain insight into what this necessarily subjective experience entails. I need not attempt to state that here, but only suggest that should one wish to ‘understand’ it, then he need only endeavor to experience it. This is not a satori gained through blood, sweat and tears, but something quite as accessible and simple as “making the tally whole” in the specific relational experiences of one’s life. An “inkling” is always just right here in each moment.

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

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