Monday, May 13, 2013

The Flight of Existence V: Wandering Far and Unfettered

Scott Bradley

But suppose you were to chariot upon what is true both to Heaven and to earth, riding atop the back-and-forth of the six atmospheric breaths, so that your wandering could nowhere be brought to a halt. You then would depend on — what? Thus I say, the Consummate Person has no fixed identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the Sage has no name.
(Zhuangzi 1; Ziporyn)
Thus does Zhuangzi sum up his vision of one who has realized freedom. Of what does it consist? Elsewhere he suggests a transformative experience, much as we find in other traditions. "The man now sitting here is not the same as the man sitting here a moment ago." (2) "Before I find what moves me into activity, it is myself that is full and real. But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that 'myself' has never begun to exist." (4) But here, he presents it as a kind of psychological shift which might be attainable though a progressive detachment from dependence. In either case, we might possibly be taking it all too seriously if we attach too much importance to what may only be an aspiration. Personally, I think it highly unlikely that even Zhuangzi himself reached this ideal. Does this disqualify him from teaching us? If we are seeking the truth; if we require a 'true way'; if we want to be 'saved', then it probably does. What Zhuangzi really teaches us is to not take anything, especially anything said, too seriously. His philosophy is distinctly unreligious in this respect: it's about living more happily, not getting saved.

The conclusion of this trope of the flight of Peng seems to have come back full-circle. Peng has ascended to an incredible height, gathering the air beneath his wings to make it from Oblivion to Oblivion. In this story there is much discussion about whether the blue of the sky is its "true" color or just a consequence of our looking into infinity. It concludes that we don't know. What then "is true of both Heaven and earth"? We still don't know; nor apparently do we need to know; that would be to depend on something. The "back-and-forth" of the atmospheric breaths is bian, “disputation”, anticipating his metaphor of the one wind giving rise to a multitude of differing voices in the chapter following. Let the disputations about what is 'true' proceed, we simply ride atop them all without needing to know. It is not about "knowing" anything.

Does Peng chariot atop what is true? Not necessarily; though there may be a fledgling dove or a cicada that does. This is a psychological experience and has nothing to do with size or accomplishment; small-mindedness or open-mindedness is as theoretically possible for the small as for the large, for the accomplished as for the unaccomplished. However, given Zhuangzi's affinity for the grotesque, the disgraced, and the marginalized, we might ask if perhaps "there is no success like failure", though as we know, "failure is no success at all." (Dylan) “Success” may be our worse enemy.

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

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