Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Companion to the Torrent

Scott Bradley

When 'Confucius' sees an old man swimming in a raging torrent below a waterfall he assumes he must be committing suicide, but when he emerges unscathed he asks if he has some special dao that enables him to do so. The old man responds that no, he has no special dao but simply entrusts himself to who he is and "enter[s] the very center of the whirlpools and emerge[s] as a companion of the torrent. I follow along with the way of the water," he continues, "and do not impose myself on it." (Zhuangzi 19; Wandering on the Way; Mair) And this, of course, is a dao that is no dao, which is to say, the no-method of letting things unfold as they will.

And this is the way of engaging with life as it emerges that Daoism recommends. The story is so clear as to require little elaboration. I would like to point out, however, that were we to see something similar on TV today, it would come with the warning that it was being performed by a professional swimmer and that we should not try it at home. The old man does tells us that he grew up doing these kinds of things and thus has acquired the knack. Were we or 'Confucius' to try it, we would likely drown. This "following along" with things does not require that we live recklessly. It is permissible to exercise good judgment and to avoid situations beyond our abilities. There are, in any case, numerous challenging situations which we cannot avoid, and these are our opportunity to nurture our own 'knack' for following along, not imposing ourselves, and emerging unscathed.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are unmoderated, so you can write whatever you want.