Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Equalizing Things X: All Things Are One Horse

Scott Bradley


This study has arrived at the dreaded this/that argument that Zhuangzi uses to logically demonstrate his conclusion that all things and opinions are fundamentally equal. I say dreaded because I, at least, am unable to always follow his arguments. This leads me to ask if it matters whether I understand them or not: Is it enough to have a sense of his conclusions? He does, after all, tell us that his argument is nothing more than "the Illumination of the Obvious" (Ziporyn), or more literally, "using the light" to reveal that which is obvious.

What is obvious? It is obvious that all our assessments about what is true or false, right or wrong, are based on our own subjective perspectives. My "this" (subjective perspective) differs from your "this" which I hold to be "that". But my "this" is your "that", and your "this" is my "that". How then, asks Zhuangzi, can we fail to conclude that "this" and "that" are really just the same? To realize this is to allow all things "to bask in the broad daylight of heaven." It is to see things from a broader perspective, the view from Dao; and this is ultimately what Zhuangzi suggests as a way of bringing an end to both internal and external disharmony.

Dao is that perspective which is the "Axis of all daos"; it is the perspective which is unpartisan; it embraces the totality of things and their individual expressions. All is well. This Dao is normative in that it has value as an indicator of how best to live, though whether we live it or not does not matter in terms of our affirmability.

The next question is what this means in terms of how we might live. Someone who embodies this understanding of the equality of all things, Zhuangzi tells us, "would not define rightness in any one way but would instead entrust it to the everyday function [of each being]. Their everyday function is what works for them . . ." Or again, "It is just a matter of going by the rightness of the present 'this'. To be doing this without knowing it, and not because you have defined it as right, is called 'the Course' [Dao]." Or again, "Thus the Sage uses various rights and wrongs to harmonize with others and yet remains in the middle of Heaven the Potter's Wheel. This is called 'Walking Two Roads'." We may not agree with someone's perspective or even that it is what would work best for them, but we nonetheless allow them to have it.

Can we try and change people’s self-contained perspectives? Unless Zhuangzi has failed of his own philosophy, apparently so, for the Inner Chapters are that attempt. But it is not a coercive attempt. Nor does it condemn those who do not respond to it. It both affirms people as they are and suggests a more harmonious way to be. This, too, is walking two roads.

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

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