Friday, March 1, 2013

The Plumage We Have

Scott Bradley


Once again called upon to expound his way before his lord who seemed only concerned to prove it wrong, Zhouzi asked after his own, but the ruler only told him what it was not. "There are in my lord's garden many birds of wonderful plumage," replied Zhouzi, "and among them are the peacock and the marsh pheasant. Does my lord take pleasure in these as do all those blessed to see them?"

"Indeed, I do," replied the lord.

"Is the resplendent pheasant splendid because it differs from the peacock? Or is the peacock praiseworthy because it is not the pheasant?" asked Zhouzi.

"Not at all," replied the lord. "They are magnificent for the plumage they have, not for the plumage they have not."

"Then might we correctly declare that their magnificence is theirs without reference to the other and that they are the same in their magnificence, but different in its expression?" continued Zhouzi.

"It is true in both cases," answered the lord.

"Now my lord has asked to hear of my simple way, yet is displeased it is not something else; yet when he is asked what way pleases him he only says what does not. Is this not comparable to dismissing the pheasant because it's plumage has no blue, and the peacock because it has too much? Is it not that to appreciate anything we must affirm it as it is? And is it not thus that we are able to appreciate and affirm each of the ten thousand disparate things?"

"This is true," replied the lord, "but words are not pheasants and ways are not peacocks. If your way is wrong, should I not tell you so?"

"You must display the plumage you have," answered Zhouzi, "as I do mine."

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