Sunday, November 4, 2012

Intrawordly Mysticism: Joining the Flow of Life

Scott Bradley


In retrospect, Chris Jochim's description of Zhuangzi's call to mystical experience as "intraworldly mysticism" because it calls for one to "join the flow of life" ("Just Say No to No Self" in Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi), seems a most obvious observation; yet, for me, despite having all the evidence at hand, this profound observation largely escaped me. Referring to the conclusions of Harold Roth and other interpreters of the Zhuangzi, he writes, "it advocates a mystical goal of participation in the world, not that of merging with a transcendental Absolute. This is the goal of an intraworldly mysticism: joining the flow of life."

I called it "profound"; I might have called it revolutionary. Think about it. I say this because I am having some difficulty in trying to articulate just how revolutionary it is. I have often thought of this call to "joining the flow of life" and "going along with the rightness of the present 'this'" as derivative of one's perspectival participation in Dao, but this is the exact opposite of the case; one's participation in "Dao" is precisely this: joining the flow of life.

I speak of Dao, but there is no Dao. Or, at least, "Dao" conceived as "a transcendental Absolute" has absolutely nothing to do with this mystical experience of release into the ever-transforming experience of life. If there is Dao in this experience, it is a perspective: the view from Dao.

Zhuangzi works from the ground up; we begin and end in our human experience. There is no call to an "otherworldly" experience. Philosophical Daoism is about this world in which we live; it is about realizing harmony in the world just as it is, without extra-worldly intervention. If there is radical transformation, as I so often say, it does not come as a bolt from above, but from the heart of human potentiality.

My mind turns to a comparison with Zen, with which it admittedly has a love/hate relationship; I respect that path greatly, so much so that I always feel guilty at criticizing it at all. But there are such fundamental ways in which Zen differs from the Zhuangzian path that I believe one can better understand both through comparing them. In this instance, the difference is glaring; Zen speaks of realizing one's mind as Absolute Mind; Zhuangzi eschews all idealistic, other-worldly aspirations in favor of emersion in this human experience just as it arises.

If there is Dao, Zhuangzi tells us, it is in piss and shit. Indeed, it is piss and shit. Human participation in Dao is full participation in life. Why should this surprise us? What is unique in the human is that we are able to imagine ourselves as entities in control of life, somehow more than life, outside life, and it is for this reason that Zhuangzi suggests that we learn what it is to re-join the flow of life. We do not have life; we are life. The spontaneous, uncaused (self-so) arising of life is Dao; joining that flow is participation in Dao.

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

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