Monday, December 17, 2012

More On Parody III

Scott Bradley

We were looking at the "sitting and forgetting" passage (Chapter 6) in the Zhuangzi to see how its aspect of parody (using Confucius to expound Daoist points of view) extends to the possible suggestion that meditation is a practice advocated by Zhuangzi.

That the passage is ironic is clear. What is not at all clear is that meditation is indicated by "sitting and forgetting". Looked at anachronistically, it might be thought to be, but taken in its time, neither "sitting" nor "forgetting" has any reference to meditation. The argument that its supposed reference to meditation is negated by an appeal to its being parody (as made by Ivanhoe in The Sense of Antirationalism) is thus unnecessary.

What Yan Hui forgets are the Confucian virtues. Though laudable values in themselves, when the inclinations which give them rise are allowed to "rule" us we are rendered unable to realize the fullest expression of our humanity. Being "good" is not the Daoist goal, but being identified with that which is "good" by virtue of its being what it is, that is, "good" without reference to any other possibility.

Confucius did not clearly address the origin of the human inclination toward goodness; he just took it as a given. Mencius declared it innate to human nature; only the ravages of social evils have rendered it so poorly expressed. Self-cultivation is a matter of drawing out the inner reality. Xunzi thought humanity inherently evil and thus requiring more intrusive efforts at reform. Zhuangzi, though probably closest to Confucius, thought the point moot. When released from the egoic-project (realizing "no fixed-self"), one becomes what one most naturally is, and that, like Nature itself, is thusness, the ultimate beyond all comparison.

After "humanity and righteousness", the next thing Yan "forgets" are "rites and music". If you have difficulty understanding what these have to do with so-called spirituality, you might want to go to church. These are the fixed and formulaic expressions of religious belief. The Daodejing tells us that when Dao is at its nadir in human expression we have ritual. Form replaces the formlessness that is true spirituality. Yet ritual can be most helpful; when one has forgotten it (understood it as form pointing at the formless) one can re-occupy it.

Finally, on his third visit to Confucius, Yan declares that he has "forgotten everything". Confucius understands this for the radical declaration that it is and asks for an explanation. Yan replies: "I smash up my limbs and torso, drive out perception and intellect, cast off form, and make myself identical with the Great Thoroughfare." (Ivanhoe) This “smashing up” of one’s body is the real reason I decided to write about this passage! It has always bothered me, and Ivanhoe, with reference to the character of this passage as parody, points out how this is a rejection of “the Confucian ideal of maintaining bodily integrity as a sign of respect to one’s parents and ancestors.” For this same reason Zhuangzi chooses those who have patently failed to do so, especially those maimed by judicial edict, as exemplars of spirituality.

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

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