Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Friendship III: Forgetting Friendship

Scott Bradley

Who is able to climb the skies, roam the mists, and dance in the infinite, living forgetful of each other without end?
(Zhuangzi, 6; Lundberg?)
More often than not forgetfulness in the Zhuangzi is a positive thing. When we have caught the rabbit, we forget the snare; when we have understood the meaning, we forget the words (and need not dispute about them). When the belt and shoes fit, we forget all about them. When we forget ourselves, we become one with transformation. When we forget life and death, we are free to live without fear. And when we forget each other, we are able to be the truest of friends.

True friendship is free of co-dependency; neither party requires anything from the other; both are sufficient unto themselves. This might smack of extreme individualism, but nothing could be farther from the truth. The pre-condition to self-sufficiency is self-forgetfulness, and this is harmony with all things. When one requires no affirmation from the other, one is able to affirm that other “without end”.

But friendship is not a given; friendship is rare and special. Friendship is mutual affirmation. Its parties require no affirmation, but friendship does not exist without it. It might be said of the theoretical sage that, as an affirmer of all that is, he is a friend of all things and everyone regardless of their ability or inability to do the same, but friendship requires two.

But do we need to speak of sages? Cannot two pilgrims, two very flawed sojourners on the way, likewise affirm each other in the midst of their imperfections? Isn’t this, in fact, the only way to friendship before us?

One passage in the Zhuangzi that speaks of forgetfulness in negative terms is that in which physical appearance is allowed to obscure that which is so much more important, that which is most essential in every person. “Thus, where Virtuosity [de] excels, the physical form is forgotten. But people are unable to forget the forgettable, and instead forget the unforgettable — true forgetfulness!” (5:20; Ziporyn) What is the “unforgettable” in each one of us? To know and affirm this is the foundation of true friendship.

But is it necessary that one’s de “excel” for us to affirm them? If so, there is no hope of friendship anywhere in the world. It is not excelling de that we forget when we refuse affirmation, but simply de, the indisputable and unconditional reality of each thing as the expression of Dao. This is the view from Dao, the all-inclusive and all-affirming view, which we need always to remind ourselves, is an orientation of mind, not a metaphysical belief.

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

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