Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Adding Fuel To the Fire

Scott Bradley

Finger-pointing ends in making firewood. That-which transmits fire does not understand its exhaustion.
These concluding words of Chapter Three of the Zhuangzi, here as translated by Wu (The Butterfly as Companion), have caused a lot of debate among commentators. I have yet to read Wu's 'meditative' reflections on them, but have looked at his 'glosses' (notes on his interpretive rendering) where he points out that they are often construed in a dualistic sense — the body (firewood) dies, but the spirit (fire) goes on. His rendering mostly avoids this problem.

"Finger-pointing" is not as we would typically use it; it means to point something out, to distinguish one thing from another, and harkens back to "a finger is not a finger" ("a word is not the thing it designates" [?]) in Chapter Two. We are, in effect, fuel for the fire of life, and all our attempts to explain death and life are just more of the firewood of our existence which is consumed by that fire. In the end, there is no real difference between points of view on the subject, for the firewood which transmits the fire has no idea where it goes when it (the firewood) is consumed. This post is just my existence making more fuel for the fire.

There is a sense, of course, in which the dualistic interpretation applies; the body (and person) does die and life presumably goes on to re-ignite other fuel. But "life" is not "my life", as if it were possessed by an identity which it is. In other words, life in this instance is innocent of a suggestion of a 'soul' which continues on. "Life goes on", as we say, but this generalized life is not any specific life. We are momentary participants in Life understood as something that transcends our individual expressions of it. We are called upon to identify, not with our specific expression, but the more general expression of Life. This echoes the overall call to identify with the Totality, the great happening (and non-happening).

I say "echoes" because generalized "Life" is an abstraction that might best not be thought of as a thing-in-itself or as some eternal reality. It may very well be (and seems logically necessary) that there is no Life without living things, and thus its 'existence' is as contingent as anything else. Not only is an individual life not transmitted on, but there is no guarantee that Life itself will be. Life has happened; it may (and probably will) cease to happen. Not to worry; we identify with nothing identifiable, that is, we identify with Mystery. Not only do we not depend on life, neither do we depend on Life. We depend on nothing, which may very well be Nothing, whatever that isn't.

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

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