Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Everyday Nirvana I

Scott Bradley


David Loy's essay ("Zhuangzi and Nagarjuna on the Truth of No Truth") in Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi attempts a comparison of these two philosophies which, though in many ways helpful, also goes too far, in my opinion, in explaining Zhuangzi in the light of Buddhist philosophy. If it is possible to over-analyze, then Nagarjuna, who was undoubtedly a brilliant expositor of Buddhist thought, nevertheless might be said to have done so. In any event, Daoism in general, and Zhuangzi in particular, cannot compete with the overwhelming volume and profundity of Buddhist philosophy; to anachronistically attempt to explain what is in many respects purposely vague and tentative by that which is not is to do an injustice to the former. It is possible to drown in a sea of words and ideas.

There is no doubt a great deal of brilliance in Nagarjuna and other Buddhist and Brahmanist expositors; shall we as Buddhists or Brahmanists proudfully point to these as some kind of proof of . . . of what exactly? Can we not be both greatly impressed and yet somehow unimpressed?

The real question, it seems to me, is whether or not Zhuangzi can deliver on his own. Deliver what? He certainly cannot provide us with an awe-inspiring systematic explanation of "the way things really are", or as in the case of Nagarjuna, "aren't". Nor does he provide us with a methodology. In fact, there is so much 'lacking' in his presentation that some scholars have suggested that it was intended to be read with the accompaniment of a 'user's manual'. I don't think so; rather, I think we would do better to ask ourselves why we would wish to have one.

What then does Zhuangzi deliver? For me, he provides an opportunity to explore possibilities which he kindly only suggests. It's like getting a new book in the mail (oh boy!) only to find it blank. Zhuangzi offers us a spring-board from which to launch ourselves into our own inquiries. There's nothing ready-made here.

Admittedly, Nagarjuna would be the first to tell us that his total deconstruction of our every intellectual construct is just to point us to what can only be a personally realized experience, but cannot all this incredibly complicated fish-trap building end up being more of a distraction than a help? Zen's "Buddha is a shit-wiping stick" might be much more helpful for us of more limited intellectual prowess.

Still, to each his own.

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

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