Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finding the Greater Constant II

Scott Bradley

As so often happens, in the previous post the introduction became the entire post. This post will actually be about the theme of "finding the greater constant" as developed in the 21st chapter of the Zhuangzi. As suggested previously, though an attempt to further explicate this theme as found in Zhuangzi, its tone is quite different. Still, it shines light on that theme.

In this story 'Confucius' is being tutored by Old Longears (Laozi). He points out that if you move herds from one pasture to another it does not bother them. Similarly, if you take fish from one pond and put them in another, they just as easily find a home in the new water as in the old. "This is because a small transformation is carried out without the loss of a greater constant . . ." (Mair; 21:4) For the herds, this greater constant is pasture; going from one to another, they don't leave the whole. For the fish, it is the water which remains water in whatever pond they find themselves. This serves as an analogy for how human beings might find their own greater constant. "It is under heaven that the myriad things are unified. When they achieve unity and share it equally . . . death and life, ending and beginning become as day and night . . ." For humanity, the greater constant is found in the great Happening that everything is. "Small transformations" like life and death happen within the larger context of Everything, just as day and night happen within the context of a 24 hour day.

This is a restatement of Zhuangzi's call to "hide the world in the world" where there is no place for anything to be lost. Hide your gold in a safe, and someone will find a way to steal it. Cast your gold into the world and it won't be lost wherever it goes. Cast your existence and identity into the great Happening and their apparent 'loss' will not disturb you. Yes, but we want to possess our gold, our existence and our identity. So the solution points out another problem, as solutions tend to do.

A corollary theme for Zhuangzi speaks to this problem. He suggests we "hand it all over to the inevitable". This says essentially the same thing, only it points out the rather obvious fact that our wanting to keep possession of our gold, existence and identity is a denial of reality; we can't in any case, so why not affirm reality and entrust ourselves to things as they are?

I call this surrender in trust. The benefits of this act in some measure accrue no matter what one imagines oneself to be surrendered into, whether in God, Kali, Dao, Nature, or the Great Clump. Things are as they are however we name them; and our naming them does not in any way alter our ultimate disposition in them. The act is its own temporal reward. Nevertheless, from the Zhuangzian perspective, surrender in trust, to the degree that it has an object of belief upon which it focuses, has made itself reliant on something; something has to be true and that ‘truth’ occupies a space un-surrendered and losable. Zhuangzi, therefore, suggests a surrender into utter unknowing, one that relies on nothing.

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

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