Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Brilliance of Dim Submergence

Scott Bradley

". . . the brilliance of dim submergence is what the holy man heads-for." (Zhuangzi, 2; Kuang-Ming Wu)

It is a common occurrence in philosophical Daoism that both light and dark come together to form a single reality: "The Shadowy Splendor". Light is to be had in darkness. Gain is had through loss. Submerge yourself in the dark unknown and it will light your way. Lose yourself in vastness and you are fulfilled.

Philosophical Daoism really just comes down to this: Cut the fetters of "fixed-identity" and wander in the freedom of identification with that which is beyond all identity. This "that" is Dao, and Dao is beyond all powers of intellection, being that in which no distinctions reside.

This phrase has its textual context, of course. We attach to the partial, call it success, and thereby lose the Totality. Hui Shih, once acclaimed brilliant and now accorded fame, molders among the dead. How is he, or any other so-called success, different from the ordinary run of men? "Small successes" obscure the Dao. Seeking it outside themselves, attempting to establish themselves as 'someone', believing their self-generated and flickering light sufficient to fulfill themselves, they lost "that which could not otherwise be lost — their self" (Kierkegaard). Trying to be bright, we become dim. Submerging into the darkly mysterious vastness, we discover clarity.

This is not a theoretical offering; Zhuangzi suggested the experience is there to be had.

Yet to focus on Zhuangzi's message is likewise to attach to the partial; attaching to his light we become dim. Zhuangzi is a mine from which we can extract the raw ore by which to form our own unique responses to ourselves-in-the-world. There are no eternal truths here, just a sample spiritual pilgrimage. The very structure of his presentation, its inherent ambiguity, hesitancy and playfulness, is intended to suggest the truest responses must be found in ourselves.

Consider this: Ziporyn translates this as "The Radiance of Drift and Doubt are the sage's only map." This is one of my pet verses, yet Wu seemingly makes it to be something else entirely. No matter; the substance is here within me, not in some supposedly sacred text. The point in this exploration of the philosophy of Zhuangzi is not to discover in him some truths or principles to apply, but to engage in the process which allows us to discover them in ourselves.

Ziporyn and Wu are actually on the same page here; we can, if we look at the Chinese, see how they both attempt to give form to the essential ambiguity and our possible positive response to it. But there are others, Xuo Xiang among them, who see it not as affirmed, but as negated: "The glitter of glib implausibility is despised by the sage" (Wu). What are we to do?! Understand these words, as Zhuangzi himself declared all such words to be, as the mere dregs of another man's experience, and forge on to create our own unique and authentic dao of life.

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

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