Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Illumination

Scott Bradley


Throughout the second chapter of the Zhuangzi, the Qiwulun (roughly, "Equalizing Things") Zhuangzi sums up his deconstruction of language (and by implication, 'Truth') by appealing to "Illumination". I confess to having had some difficulty in understanding what this is, probably because I have assumed it to refer to some deep and mysterious intuition (prajna — oh boy!). However, he sometimes calls it "the Illumination of the Obvious", which might have given me a clue that its meaning is . . . well, obvious. In any case, Mark Berkson in his essay "Language: The Guest of Reality — Zhuangzi and Derrida on Language, Reality and Skillfulness" (in Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi) sums it up nicely: "In order to become a sage, one must 'illuminate all in the Light of Heaven'. One escapes the perspectivism of human-centered points of view trapped within systems by escaping the systems altogether in a Heaven's-eye view that illuminates all things to show their relativity and ultimate equality (but not identity)."

What this view-from-Dao (as I call it) does is to allow one to see the ultimate equality of all views. Dao does not discriminate between things. The consequence of having such a view is "receptivity and awareness" — openness.

Berkson wonders if it would be possible for the sage to consistently maintain such a view. (That would indeed be to get all fuzzy and mystical.) He concludes that it would be enough to simply see it for a moment, for then one would be forever aware of the relativity of one's own point of view. Though I think Zhuangzi suggests the possibility of a transformative experience wherein one abides in such a transcendent experience, I agree with Berkson that a mere 'inkling' (as I like to put it) can in itself be transformative.

But then we do "walk two roads" (liang xing), or as Berkson has it "walk with both things". For him, this means that "one should not get caught on either side of the dyad [this/that; right/wrong] but accept both halves. One should not apply conventional categories, but rather foster a receptivity to all things." I also apply it to the fact (to which he also refers) that we are still human and have our own points of view — only now they are moderated. Thus does Zhuangzi say of the sage that "he too recognizes a 'this' but a 'this' which is also a 'that' . . ." And thus does Zhuangzi happily debate and spar, but never as if it mattered all that much.

Berkson goes on to show how this illumines Zhuangzi's belief that "words have something to say" while at the same time declaring them ultimately "unfixed". In the end, nothing is truly negated — all is simply put in a larger context, the View from Dao.

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

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