Monday, May 27, 2013

Human Nature II

Scott Bradley


I concluded the previous post by saying that I think Zhuangzi would be more than pleased if we were to have the experience of entrusting ourselves to the life that we are, regardless of how we subsequently interpreted the nuances of its moral implications. In fact, he would probably maintain that one could not otherwise have the experience. His entire project is founded on the belief that it is the imposition of mental constructs, moral or simply explanatory, which preclude our ability to live spontaneously.

Spontaneity, among other things, requires entrusting oneself to who one is. It is unconditional self-affirmation. (Seng-Ts'an's Trust in Mind, is, to my thinking, also just this.) Do we do this because we can trust that we will behave ourselves, or do we simply do it? If the former, than we have already mediated the adventure through a moralizing filter. So often it comes down to this — this overwhelming need to understand life from the point of view of right and wrong. Discovering this seemingly unavoidable inclination is, I think, a first step to understanding the alternative experience that Zhuangzi and other traditions such as Zen suggest as possible. If it seems to some that I get hung up here all too frequently, it is only because this is a genuine, and possibly universal, road block on the way to realizing these visions.

It should be clear then how the issue of "human nature" emerges when we speak of spontaneity. Why does it emerge? Because we worry about moral outcomes; and this demonstrates that we continue to be in bondage to right and wrong. Can we trust ourselves? If not, then we had best, like 'Confucius', "stay within the lines", for we may be, again like 'Confucius', "punished by Heaven", which is to say, so constituted by nature as to be unable to let go into this freedom. (There is no universal 'birthright' here anymore than there is to intellectual or artistic brilliance; anymore than 'having a family' is universally guaranteed to those born dickless or wombless. The seemingly accidental nature of reality, whether ultimately 'true' or not, has so much to teach us about our life experience and how best to engage it.)

Thus, Zhuangzi makes no attempt to tell us what "human nature" is, as if to ensure that all will be well because unconditionality is guaranteed by certain conditions, namely our essential 'goodness'. He does not tell us that it is safe to leap because the ground on the other side has been carefully surveyed and inspected and has the good housekeeping seal of moral approval. Trust means trust and is unconditional.

There is no doubt but that the human experience introduces this added dimension of moral consideration to the otherwise amoral face of Nature. However, as with the apparently and equally novel experience of a reasoning mind, Zhuangzi suggests that we do ourselves harm when we take these as obviating the more primal and immediate experience of being human. Ultimately, he asks, Can we unconditionally entrust ourselves to Nature? We might as well, he might answer; for we are this Nature, whether we entrust ourselves to it or not.

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

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