Friday, May 31, 2013

Equalizing Things IV: Spontaneous Self-Rightness

Scott Bradley


Ziqi’s explanation of what it means that he has lost his ‘me’ seems to only raise more questions than it answers. Though lots of these questions remain, I’m going to try and summarize what I think his analogy of the three pipings intends to teach us.

The pipings of man, earth and Heaven, though individually identifiable, are really just one Happening. The piping of Heaven, however, is only discernible in and as the other two. “What identity could there be for the rouser”, he asks rhetorically, when everything just seems to happen by and of itself? The piping of Heaven is everything that happens and the Mystery of their emergence; it is not the causal source of that emergence . It is a kind of emptiness which can inform our own piping not as an external ‘other’, but as the very event of our own happening. The way to Dao is through our own individual expression of Dao. We honor the Mystery in fully embracing and affirming its expression.

Daoism agrees with Buddhism that all things are essentially empty in that they arise from and return to “emptiness”, but it differs from Buddhism in that this leads it to affirm and embrace all things rather than to negate them. They are empty; yet they are. They are “self-so”, which Guo Xiang also tells us, is the same as being “Heaven-so”. In this sense, Daoism preserves the unavoidable paradox of things both being and not-being more faithfully than does Buddhism. I have several times quoted Liu Xianxin (1896-1932) in this regard: “This chapter begins by showing the spontaneous self-rightness of all things. . . . The main principle of Buddhism is Emptiness: nothing is wanted, all is to be abandoned. The main principle of Daoism is vastness: everything is wanted; all is to be included.” (Ziporyn) We need not take this as a condemnation of Buddhism, but rather as a clarification of that watershed, the two possible fundamentally different directions we can take in response to our being-yet-not-being, through which we might better, as Ziqi says, “select out” our own way.

In declaring “the self-rightness of all things”, Ziqi is simultaneously declaring the equality of all things. Everything is perfect because everything is perfectly what it is. In the event that we call reality, each thing is absolutely affirmable, and this renders all things equal. And it is in the realization of this equality that Ziqi has lost his ‘me’. I have lost ‘me’” is not the negation of his self, but its fullest expression. ‘Me’, not ‘I’, is the means by which we separate ourselves from the world; it is the psychological act of self-identification which excludes all else and is the basis upon which we judge others as unacceptable. Ziqi has no-self in that his self is no longer self-contained, but is instead united with all things in the realization that all things are “Heaven-so”. He has come to understand the unity that underlies but does not negate diversity. All things are the same in that they are all different. ‘I’ without ‘me’ is an affirmation of self as utterly “self-right” in its uniqueness and the equality of all things in theirs. We might also call this openness.

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

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