Friday, December 14, 2012

Seeing Yourself

Scott Bradley


Chapter 8, the first of the so-called Outer Chapters of the Zhuangzi is instructive for both how it agrees with the philosophy of Zhuangzi as revealed in the Inner Chapters, on the one hand, and diverges, on the other.

It agrees in that it sees the imposition of the Confucian virtues of humaneness and righteousness on the natural flow of one's character as a violation of that character and as essentially counter-productive in the realization of those same virtues. Allowed to unfold naturally, one's character will express the openness which results in humaneness. The imposition of these virtues from without only perpetuates the conflict, now internalized, that disallows their true external expression.

This is what is meant by "true humanity is inhumane". (Laozi) There is "A" and there is "not-A". Daoism tells us that these two in opposition can only produce more opposition and thus proposes "not-not-A". It is not that humaneness is not valued, but that it cannot be made to happen. True caring is neither "caring" nor "not-caring"; true caring happens without making it happen.

The author of this chapter diverges from Zhuangzi in several ways, I believe. The most important of these is more a question of spirit than of content. He seems strident and partisan. He in effect introduces a new 'orthodoxy', the imposition of a new moral imperative. He seems all too serious. This comes out especially when, after declaring the 'righteous' and the 'debauched' equal in that they have both sold out to motivations focused on the external (merit and name), he says: "Because I feel shame before the Way and its integrity [de], I do no engage in [either] . . ." (Mair) "Shame" only arises through the imposition of 'morality', precisely that thing he wishes to transcend. His Dao makes moral distinctions.

In terms of content, he introduces the word xing, translated as (essential) nature, a term Zhuangzi, I believe, does not use. We have an "essential nature", some core reality that we are meant to realize. Though, in my opinion, completely alien to Zhuangzi's vision of the human experience as inextricably one with endless transformation and thus in every way "unfixed", this concept quickly attached itself to future Daoist thought. This testifies to the revolutionary nature of Zhuangzi's vision, on the one hand, and the human propensity toward making of itself some distinct "thing", on the other. I have discussed this a lot elsewhere and won't dwell on it further here.

Returning to the author's positive elucidation of Zhuangzian thought, we see how he understood self-cultivation as without reference to externals. The “sage” and the robber are the same in that they have sold themselves out in the pursuit of merit and name, precisely those things which we use to establish a “self” that is “somebody”. The true sage “sees herself”, “hears herself”, “realizes herself”. True selflessness is selfish.

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

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