Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Horse's True Nature I

Scott Bradley


The 9th chapter (“Horse’s Hooves”) of the Zhuangzi has been described by Graham as one of several "primitivist" contributions to that book, probably from the hand of one author. This implies that all the contributions to the book are not equally reflective of the views of Zhuangzi, something that any cursory reading should make clear. Nevertheless, they have a lot to teach us, even if sometimes by virtue of their divergence.

"Divergence"? Yes, I have revealed my bias; it is my belief that the Inner Chapters (1-7) present the core philosophy of the Zhuangzi, that they were written (at least, almost in their entirety and even if cobbled together by a later editor) by one author, and that that man was probably Zhuangzi. If it was not Zhuangzi it really makes no difference. If they are the work of several authors, then at least they were all on the same page. That they stand unique from the other chapters, even those which are clearly attempts to faithfully further explicate the philosophy they espouse, is easily demonstrable.

So what? This is a question of immense importance. From the side of scholarship (the work of understanding what exactly is being said), understanding the distinct points of views of the various parts enables a better understanding of the uniqueness of each of those parts. Yet we do not attempt to understand the Inner Chapters, which we take as primary, through the lenses of other points of view; something that commentators often do.

Yes, but so what? So, we have a better understanding of the thought of Zhuangzi and we (?) have taken that thought as a point of departure for our own journey into a life philosophy. We need not have done so; another point of departure might work just as well or better; we might even concede that no point of departure apart from our own wanderings is required. But I, at any rate, have chosen this philosophy as my point of departure.

It might not be altogether honest to say that Zhuangzi is content-free (free of metaphysical belief), though I like to think so, but there is, nonetheless, a sense in which he taught nothing we need believe. His teaching might be better understood as a method. It is as if he said, "Try meditating like this, and see what happens." This "meditating" is an exploration of the experience of being loosed from the bonds of all fixity. And while it is true that he tells us something of what "happens" for him when he does so, wandering "in the vast wilds of open nowhere" or "in our homeland of not-even-anything" provides little upon which we can grasp. Only our own experience can make these 'real'; but then they are only and uniquely ours, not his.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch house, we have horses which must wait until tomorrow to have their true natures revealed.

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

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