Friday, January 18, 2013

Nourishing Life

Scott Bradley

The title of the third chapter of the Zhuangzi can be translated "The Primacy of Nourishing Life". If Wu (The Butterfly as Companion) is right in saying that this chapter is the summation of all the other Inner Chapters, then it might be worth stepping back for a moment to consider what this tells us about Zhuangzian Daoism in general.

What it tells me is that all the 'losing of oneself', 'wandering far and unfettered', 'riding on the totality of what is', which is to say, all the highly mystical aspiration, has but one aim, namely, to live happily and well here and now. Does this mean we should take the literature off the 'spiritual' shelf and put it on the 'self-help' shelf? Not at all; only it shows us how down-to-earth Daoist spirituality is intended to be.

The underlying assumption of Daoist cosmology is that everything really is hunkey-dory; whatever 'problems' there may be, they are of no cosmic significance. All is well. No redemption of anything or anybody is required. I know I harp on these concepts, but they are so fundamental (and so liberating) that I see no way of speaking of Daoism without mentioning them. Are they objectively true? How the hell could anyone know? Zhuangzi would say, You are alive; choose life, not its negation; make it true for you. Affirm the life experience and the Mystery from which it arises. Why? Because this is what life does — even when the mind does not.

Having thereby entrusted oneself to Mystery, all that's left is to make the most of life. That this does not translate into "Eat, drink and be merry (for tomorrow we die)" is because Daoist insight reveals that our typical interface with our environment, though naturally evolved, has led us down a path that does not always nourish life, which is to say, rather than allowing us to live it happily, it has made us miserable. Thus, there is work to do.

When we say that Reality is 'Good' and, therefore, that Nature is good, this does not mean that it isn't messy. It means messy is also good. Daoism does not impose Good on Reality; it takes Reality as Good (or, imposes Reality on Good). Humanity has not deviated from some presupposed heavenly norm — from some 'original nature' — it has simply evolved a new permutation — this incredible self-conscious mind — and it is simply trying to find its feet, like a newborn lamb. This may take awhile; who knows how it will end. However it ends will also be hunkey-dory.

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

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