Friday, May 24, 2013

Waylessness III

Scott Bradley


One of Zhuangzi's infrequent excursions into speculative metaphysics helps to further illustrate the way in which Dao is understood as dao-less and how we can use that understanding to find an approximating middle ground between Dao and warring daos. In the first post of this series, I suggested what might be called three levels of awareness (though this frightening suggestion immediately cries out for the qualifying concession that they are all equally Dao). These are: Dao that does not distinguish (waylessness), daos that distinguish and declare themselves Dao (the ways of, for example, the Confucians and Mohists), and daos that distinguish in declaring all daos equal (the way of Zhuangzi).

Zhuangzi's above mentioned foray into metaphysics seems purely hypothetical and as intended to further explain his "walking two roads" which immediately precedes it. The "ancients", he tells us, had the ultimate understanding; they understood that "there had never existed so-called things. Next there were those for whom things existed but never any definite boundaries between them. Next there were those for whom there were boundaries but never any rights and wrongs. When rights and wrongs waxed bright, the Course [Dao] began to wane. What set the Course [Dao] to waning was exactly what brought the cherishing of one thing over another to its fullness." (2:25-26; Ziporyn)

This is the devolution of the Dao-awareness. Where there is no discrimination between things there are no things; nor are there daos. This is waylessness. The middle way is that which acknowledges things and daos but does not judge some right and others wrong. This is Zhuangzi's accommodating way, an acknowledgment that we are dao-bound but can be informed by Dao. The final, and 'normal' way, is that in which there are things and daos and some are judged right and others wrong. Ironically, it is in proclaiming Dao that Dao is obscured. Proclaiming Dao, like declaring Truth, sets up the standard by which daos are judged. The final waning of Dao is when a dao is declared to be Dao.

The view from Dao might be likened to observing nature in its diversity, enjoying its every manifestation without declaring red or black ants good or bad. The view from the discriminating mind declares red ants good (if you are red) and black ants bad or black ants good (if you are black) and red ants bad. The view from an ant informed by Dao affirms both the ways of red-ness and black-ness, but being a specific kind of ant, follows along with whichever condition in which it finds itself.

This is "walking two roads".

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

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