Monday, May 13, 2013

The Flight of Existence IV: Non-Dependent Freedom

Scott Bradley


The fledgling dove looks up at Peng flying incredibly high overhead and laughs. She believes she has discovered the ultimate in flying in making it to the next bush. The irony is she has — if only for doves and the dove that she is. If only she could now laugh at herself for making her completion dependent on the negation of someone else's.

Thus does Zhuangzi draw a lesson from his fantastic story of Peng's flight from Oblivion to Oblivion. But not stopping there, he goes on to explore its implications to human psychology in ever ascending levels of non-dependence until he arrives at the sage who depends on . . . nothing.

But we are dependent on . . . everything. Peng might have a wingspan vast beyond human comprehension but this is precisely why he depends on 90 thousand miles of air beneath his wings before he can make his journey. Maybe the dove is right; she only depends on a few feet. However, it is not the quantity of air required to make one's existential journey that matters, but the dependence; in this the dove and Peng are the same. Ultimately, we all depend on an infinity of things for our existence; one can never be independent. But what if we could release ourselves from all psychological dependence, wouldn't that be a kind of non-dependence?

It would; but then we would have to release our grasp on our very identity; then we would have to release our grasp on life itself, and let it be or not be, in either case inconsequential. But then, too, wouldn't we thus experience an incredible freedom however large or small we might be? Zhuangzi thinks so.

There are some, Zhuangzi tells us, who achieve some ‘successes’ in the world — maybe even come to have “a country to preside over" — and from this they derive a sense of pride and self-worth. Such dependence! "Even" the philosopher Song Rongzi would laugh at such a one. He taught that nothing external should disturb our inner peace. A great start, says Zhuangzi, but still he depends on something: “[H]e was able to forget reputation but had not yet forgotten his fixed identification with his particular self.” (Shi Deqing; Ziporyn) He “did not yet understand how to laugh at himself.” (Wang Fuzhi) Liezi possessed spiritual power that enabled him to “ride the wind”. Yet still he depends on something: the wind . . . and still more, spiritual prowess.

“But what if . . ,” Zhuangzi asks. What if you depended on nothing? Wouldn’t this be an incredible experience of spiritual liberation? “Thus I say,” he concludes, “the Consummate Person has no fixed identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the Sage has no name.” (Ziporyn) If we would wander “free and unfettered” every psychological dependence has to go.

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

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