Friday, November 9, 2012

Zhenzhi: Authentic Knowledge

Scott Bradley


Zhenzhi is a term that I may very well have made up; however, it's probably a good guess at the one used by Zhuangzi when he tells us in Chapter 6 that only the Authentic Person (zhenren) has Authentic Knowledge.

In the previous post I discussed (inspired by Roger Ames) the Zhuangzian ideal of the Authentic Person as someone who is thoroughly realizing (as an on-going process) his or her own unique expression in dynamic relation with her or his environmental context. Authentic Knowledge, which is said to be only possible for the Authentic Person, is likewise a creative and relational phenomenon; it is not an “objective” knowledge, knowledge about something ‘out there’, independent of the one who knows, but a participatory knowledge. It is not so much about the what of reality as it is about the how of it: How does one live in the world? It is about truth that could not possibly be articulated because it is existential; it is the truth of one’s being in the world. In the end, there is no what or how of living, only living.

Zhuangzi introduces this idea of Authentic Knowledge in the context of a discussion about the thorny question of what is “of Heaven” and what is “of Man”. How do we reconcile our affirmation of what is (Heaven, fate) with the human impetus to effect change? As he frequently does, Zhuangzi first seemingly quotes established wisdom to the effect that this knowledge is possible, only to then declare that such knowledge has no reliable foundation from which to begin; it is simply conjecture. Only an Authentic Person, he tells us, could have Authentic Knowledge, because this truth can only be lived, not understood. Life transcends all irreconcilables because these arise only as abstractions whereas life actually happens.

Zhuangzi summarizes by telling us that, for Authentic Persons, “Their oneness was the oneness, but their non-oneness was also their oneness. In their oneness they were follows of the Heavenly. In their non-oneness they were followers of the Human. This is what it is for neither the Heavenly nor the Human to win out over the other.” (Ziporyn) I have summarized this to say: Not-One is also One. That it all ends in paradox is Zhuangzi’s point. In the end, authentic living can only be lived, not understood. Any formulaic answer would simply have one side of the paradox win out over the other.

Zhuangzi’s real interest isn’t in these arcane discussions and distinctions; he simply deconstructs them so as to deliver us from them in order that we can return to the wonderfully irreducible and mysterious quality of life itself. The “answers to life’s persistent questions” are simply to live it.

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

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