Thursday, May 9, 2013

Birdsong

Scott Bradley


Ah, Spring. Each morning I awake to the song of birds. Even now a cock quail tells the world where he is. Come on, Baby, let's do the family thing. The wild turkeys gobble, fan their tail-feathers, and strut their stuff. Even the vultures have gathered in a nearby field to perform their pre-nuptial dances. Oops; even the vultures? "How do daos come to be obscured, such that they are subject to judgments of 'authentic' or 'inauthentic'?" (Zhuangzi, 2; Eno)

Zhuangzi asks if our speech is any different than the chirping of baby birds. His answer, if there is one, is not so easily deciphered. Might not this be because, in the end, it would have to be both yes and no? Our songs have meaning, perhaps more meaning than the call of a quail, but are they more meaningful? Do they capture Dao? Or are they rather an expression of Dao, no more nor less than the songs of the house wrens now nesting in my trailer? How is Dao obscured except in that we declare one expression more noble than another?

How do vultures demonstrate their procreative worthiness? Is it in their sense of rhythm? ("Do you love me now that I can dance?") Or do they vomit to show their prowess at finding carrion? (Having had them do so on my boat, I have a visceral sense of this.) Among vultures the answers and their distinctions are clear. But are they more worthy than those of the wren?

For Zhuangzi, there is space for making distinctions between the various daos of our day; some are more efficacious than others. Some tend to bind us; some to free us; none necessarily does either. But their relative worthiness need not obscure the underlying unity of things, the unity of Dao.

What daos obscure Dao? Those daos that exclude other daos, exclude the all-encompassing Dao. But Dao does not exclude them. Why do some daos exclude others? Because they believe their chirping has captured Dao. But Dao cannot be captured; it sings in every song.

The dao of Zhuangzi is just another dao. And as with every dao, if a person is to use it, she must in some sense exclude others that she might focus her skill on this one. He who plays the guitar has said no to playing the drums, but he does not say no to the drummer in the band. If the point is to make music, unity in diversity is the key, and each one must master his chosen skill.

For Zhuangzi, to master this sense of all-encompassing Dao, to experience this boundless openness, this is the skill that harmonizes every possible song, and frees the heart to enjoy them all.

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

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