Sunday, December 2, 2012

Ming: Lighting the Whole

Scott Bradley

By what is the Way darkened that we have true and false? By what are words darkened that we have right and wrong? Where can you go and be without the Way? How can words exist and be nowhere appropriate? . . . What one calls right the other calls wrong; what one calls wrong the other calls right. If we want to right their wrongs and wrong their rights, then the best thing to do is use light [ming].
(Zhuangzi, 2; Ivanhoe)
It is not that everyone is right, but that everyone is both right and wrong. Dao encompasses the full gamut of human expression and thus recognizes neither right nor wrong. When we select out one point of view and attach ourselves to that, the Way is "darkened". Zhuangzi suggests we learn to step back and shine the light of Dao [ming] on everything so as to discover their essential similarity. This is his technique for overcoming our addiction to preferences and opinions. This is how one gains a more transcendent view.

This is far from easy to accomplish, but easy to try. And in the trying one gets an idea of what that more transcendent point of view feels like, as well as how contrary to our inclinations it is. So, why not try it? You need not believe or make a commitment to anything. If, for instance, you tried it with respect to polarized political points of view, you need not worry that you will emerge a Republican.

William Callahan ("Cook Ding's Life on the Whetstone"; Wandering at Ease in the Zhuangzi) tells us that ming (light, illumination) is used so frequently in the Inner Chapters and in such specific contexts as to be a "technical term". This is implicit in Ziporyn's rendering it "the Illumination of the Obvious". Shining the light of awareness in such a way as to illumine polarities is a means to transcending them.

What is the aim? First, the goal is to cut the fetters of that insular close-mindedness which obstructs the way to open and free wandering in that 'place' where nothing can distress us. Partisanship "darkens" Dao and disturbs our peace. And second, this freedom allows us to "follow along with the rightness of the present 'this'". We are able to harmonize in and with every situation.

So, we find ourselves among some neo-Nazis; do we adopt their beliefs and give the salute? No, we are simply able to affirm their humanity and not dehumanize them as demonic expressions of 'evil'. What motivates them; what are their fears? We might be surprised to see how similar we are once the externals of their particular expression no longer give rise to what we take as the polar-opposite in ourselves. Curiously, our antipathy for them is strikingly similar to their antipathy for the “other”. Hating hate is just more hate, but it feels so good and right to hate it just the same.

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

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