Thursday, May 30, 2013

Equalizing Things III: The Great Clump Belches

Scott Bradley


Ziqi has lost his 'me' and his disciple, Yan, like ourselves, wants to know what this means. I was thinking to (reluctantly) discuss, with the help of past commentators, the self-creates-other dualism and all that, but though I probably will in the end, I have had the novel idea of first letting Ziqi tell us, as he did Yan. The problem with this admittedly obvious idea is that his 'answer' is so circuitous that it's hard to know how it answers the question at all. But maybe it will emerge with another reading.

Immediately, Ziqi suggests three "pipings", those of man, earth, and Heaven, and exhorts Yan to hear all three. And then we are in a forest storm: "When the Great Clump belches forth its vital breath [qi], we call it the wind. As soon as it arises, raging cries emerge from all the ten thousand hollows." (Ziporyn) Yan figures he knows what the piping of man is, playing an instrument. And the howling of the forest is the piping of earth. But what, he asks, is the piping of Heaven? Guo Xiang (252-312), final editor of and first extant commentator on the Zhuangzi answers, "Just this is the piping of Heaven." Just what? Just everything; all of the above. It is all things "that collectively form the unity called Heaven." One belch is and gives rise to the ten thousand belches.

Ziqi answers: "It gusts through all the ten thousand differences, allowing each to go its own way. But since each one selects out its own, what identity can there be for the rouser?" (Ziporyn) The implications of these words are enormous. (Though before I get too excited, it needs to be noted that various translations are possible). Guo Xiang seems to have understood it as it is here, and made it one of the cornerstones of his own Neo-Daoist philosophy. Since everything does what it does because that is how it does it, what need do we have for something to make them do it? "All at once," writes Guo, "each spontaneously self-generates. . . . Thus the self is 'so of itself'." What Guo is about here is breaking from every conception of causality; "reality" happens without being made to happen. (And thus, as Guo explains, "self-so" does not mean that things generate themselves.) The very emergence of "reality" is spontaneous, uncaused, and undirected.

But Ziqi has exhorted Yan to hear all three pipings, so the piping of Heaven must be precisely this spontaneous happening, and to ‘hear’ it is to be so informed by it that one similarly allows oneself to just happen. This parallels the exhortation in chapter 4 to go beyond hearing with the ear, to hearing with the mind, to hearing with qi, “an emptiness”. And there, when a different Yan does just this (through “fasting of the heart”) he discovers that “’myself’ has never begun to exist.” Can we assume then that losing ‘me’ is the outcome of experiencing the unity in diversity of all three pipings, those of man, earth and Heaven? “Since every ‘I’ is then the Heavenly,” asks Wang Fuzhi (1619-1692), “to what opposite [me] could I be coupled?”

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

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