Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ordinary Mind Is Dao

Scott Bradley

In the unlikely event that you have been reading these posts for awhile, you will have read my responses to Roger Ames' translation and commentary Yuan Dao: Tracing Dao to Its Source. I was unimpressed by the Yuan Dao itself, as I recall, but very much taken with Ames' commentary which, though not always easy for my quail-brain to follow, nonetheless opened my mind up to new and insightful ways of understanding Dao. The same applies to his introductory comments in the anthology of which he is the editor, Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi.

I am going to go out on a limb and presume to speak to his approach in general and suggest that he sometimes manages to reformulate Daoist perspectives into more precise, philosophical understandings, sometimes seemingly far removed from their poetic origins, yet undeniably rooted in them. This, at any rate, is how I see his representation of dao and de in the last mentioned work.

After describing ziran (spontaneity; self-so-ness) as "the expression of one's own particular genuineness — one's self-disclosure", he is careful to clarify the meaning of "self" (previously seen in Jochim's contribution to the anthology) as “not the superordinated agent ‘self’ familiar to some Western philosophers, but always ‘in context’, a particular ‘focus’ (de) in an ongoing ‘field’ of experience (dao) . . .” This is heady stuff, and I am not at all sure I can correctly interpret his meaning, but in the context of what I think he is saying, my interpretation, right or wrong, is nonetheless dao. It is my dao as expressed in my de.

Dao stands for a vast array of possible answers to questions as disparate as cosmological (Where does it all come from?), ontological (What is the stuff of Reality?), ethical (How can we best live?) and psychological (What is the relationship between mind and reality?) and all of these ‘answers’, however disparate their range, are part of a seamless whole. Nothing stands outside Dao, and thus whatever manner in which Dao might be represented, whether as Ultimate Source or “piss”, it is equally Dao.

I am of the opinion that Zhuangzi’s Dao is concerned more with the “piss” side of reality, with Dao as the most immediate experience of being human. So let’s follow Ames’ lead and render it dao; for it is no longer in any sense ‘universal’, but nothing other than a particular and unique expression. Understood as “an ongoing field of experience” dao is whatever we individually make it to be at any given moment. Your ‘world’ just now as you experience and think it is your dao. This is dao as psychological “piss"; this is dao in its "lowest" expression (to use the comparative/superlative frame of reference in the Zhuangzian story which he, in the end, completely dismisses, there being no such discrimination in Dao).

Dao, your dao, is however you are in the world at this moment. In this sense, dao is whatever you are making it to be. Ordinary mind, this strange interpretation, creation, and experience of reality that I presently concoct is dao. Any normative value it might have must therefore arise from within this life-experience itself, and from nowhere else. Ordinary mind is dao.

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

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