Friday, May 10, 2013

Walking on Air

Scott Bradley

Some authors touch so clearly upon the way of Zhuangzi that I am tempted to quote large chunks of their writing, but in the end it seems more practical to just identify and recommend their work. Mark Berkson's essay "Language: The Guest of Reality" (in Essays on Skepticism, Relativism, and Ethics in the Zhuangzi) is one such work. As I have done before, I presume to judge whether someone has "got it" or not. He has; at least in the case of the aspect of Zhuangzi with which he here deals.

It might be worth noting that it seems legitimate to suggest that there is "getting it" and then there is "getting it". I obviously think I've got it to some extent (how else could I say someone else has or has not?), but I do not intend this to imply that I've got it. The former speaks to understanding it, the latter to living it. Yet, I also maintain that one is not likely to get it without to some extent also getting it; without some experience of things which are ultimately mystical, one is unlikely to get any deep sense of its intellectual expression. And this is why so much scholarship seems to stumble about in the Zhuangzi when it comes to actually interpreting it.

On the phrase "the hard thing is to walk without touching the ground", (Zhuangzi, 4; Graham) Berkson writes: "This is the ultimate goal of the sage, and shows that the sage is in the world, but not of it; within language, but not its prisoner." Like "flying without wings", which is suggested in the same passage, this metaphor speaks to the practical involvement of the sage in the world; scholarly descriptions of Daoism as "quietist" and "escapist" are wide of the mark.

Suzuki tells us that satori results in normal walking, only as if a few inches off the ground. This may be, but it is not what is meant here; this is about reforming a despot without getting executed. The context of this pivotal passage in which we find "the fasting of the heart" which leads to an emptiness receptive of all things, is how 'Confucius'' disciple Yan Hui can save a province from its dictator. To effectively remedy ills in the world it is necessary to first be transcendent of the world. Thus does one not counter ego with ego, ambition with ambition, violence with violence — methods clearly unable to but create more of the same.

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

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