Thursday, May 16, 2013

On Being Momentary II

Scott Bradley

Since I have yet to drown in this sea of speculative metaphysics, I would like to address to what use philosophical Daoism puts its understanding of the "emptiness of things". "What I mean by being without essentials", Zhuangzi explains, "is that the man does not inwardly wound his person with likes and dislikes, that he constantly goes by the spontaneous and does not add anything to the process of life." (Graham)

To speak of the emptiness of things is somewhat nonsensical since it is only through the human mind that they arise to be discussed in the first place. There is a very real sense in which there are no things where there is no mind to imagine them as such. This is not intended as a statement of ontology, an assertion of the way things actually are (or aren't), but rather as a description of the interface of the mind and the world. Whatever things are or are not, when it comes to our understanding of them, they are what we make them to be. We make our own world. Something is good or bad, helpful or harmful, because we make them so. And when we make them so, when we like or dislike them, we give them the power to wound us.

We do not need a profound metaphysics to appreciate this fact; in fact, not only does Zhuangzi not attempt any such thing, I think he would see this as simply another attempt to "add something to the process of life". His approach is much more straight-forward and practical. If these bugs bug me, it is because I make them capable of doing so; being bugged is a two-way street; it takes two to tango. This does not mean that I cannot turn off the light that attracts them, or seek a place without them, but that I have not allowed them to disturb my inner peace.

The mind of the sage is like a mirror, Zhuangzi tells us. He acknowledges things, and engages them as they arise, but he does not judge them; he does not "store things up".

If I am offended, I have allowed an offence to wound me. Someone or something may be offensive — there is a place for such a discrimination — but this discrimination need not be given the substance which renders things capable of offending. It's my responsibly, not some other’s. Again, we make our world.

Even this is too technical and intellectual. How about we just say: Just say Yes. Or, Be Thankful. ("In all things give thanks." — Paul) But does not even this 'saying' "add something to the process of life"? This spontaneity of which Zhuangzi speaks does not require the application of formulas, it arises naturally.

Yes, but this is the way of a sage, and who among us qualifies as an expression of that ideal? Thus, we fall back on the intermediate and approximate. We are moved in that direction; and though we are unlikely to realize the ideal, still our lives are made happier. And in the end, all remains well, whether we are moved or not. And we can always be thankful for that.

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

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