Thursday, June 20, 2013

Not-One Is Also One IV (Revisited)

Scott Bradley
Original post date: May 11, 2010


Continuing with the discussion from Zhuangzi, Chapter 6...

Reality is fate. It is spontaneity.

‘Fate’ is a loaded word and requires careful defining. Perhaps ‘givens’ would be a better choice, though it is hard to improve on Reality, the word we wish to define. For there is nothing of the purposive implied in ‘fate’. It would be difficult to find a better definition than that of Mencius: “What arrives though nothing makes it arrive” (Mencius, 5A7). This addresses the apparent randomness of events that impinge upon us. They simply happen without rhyme or reason, without purpose or intention.

In other words, Heaven has not brought them upon us for a purpose, nor have they been ‘brought about’ at all. They simply happen. This does not mean that they cannot be made purposeful by the human. Their very inevitability and one’s inability to make it otherwise, like all limitations, can be used by the human to transcend those limitations.

Events can be of human origin, someone treading on my foot, for instance, or they may be ‘acts of nature’, a tile falling off the roof onto my head (to use two Zhuangzian examples). In either case, that it happened to ‘me’ is a given, fate. To say this, is of course, to assume the human side of the equation — there is no fate or given without the human perspective and response. Again, this is all about the human, for it is only the human that makes these distinctions.

We might make a distinction between these minor events and other more fundamental givens of our existence, life and death, for instance, though ultimately such a distinction might be artificial. That ‘I’ was born, and thus ‘have life’, and that ‘I’ will die, and thus ‘lose life’ are the two most important aspects of fate that Zhuangzi offers us. We have no choice in either event. These are the most fundamental givens of our existence. Reconciliation with this aspect of Reality is a major theme in Zhuangzi’s resolution of the apparent dualism implied by Heaven and man as the passage progresses.

There are, however, events which impinge upon us that have human agency at their root. If someone carelessly steps on your foot, this is a consequence of carelessness. But in terms of your response to this event, how is it different from the impersonal fate of the givens of Reality? It is to be accepted with the same equanimity; the source is of no consequence.

Reality has fated you to die; whether that comes in old age or at the hand of a bandit is of no consequence. If, however, you have, through the pursuit of fame or fortune, brought about your own death, this is to be condemned (though, in the end, it matters little). This would have been a consequence of the failure to understand the part which the Human (in him ought to) play, that is, a failure to have lived in spontaneous harmony with Reality. Not all that befalls us its fated.

How we can best respond to that which befalls us through our own failings is a topic only briefly touched upon here and I will jump the queue so as to address it and have it behind us. The first thing that we are told about the theoretical Genuine Human Beings is that they did not revolt against their inadequacies, did not aspire to completeness. . . . In this way, they could be wrong or they could be right, but without regret and without self-satisfaction.

Thus, even the possessors of Genuine Knowledge could fall short of perfection and yet still transcend their limitations by virtue of that Knowledge. Could we say that, in the end, they saw the oneness of the Human and Reality, that the chirping of nestlings, however meaningless, are nonetheless as ‘heavenly’ as the pronouncements of sages?

Reality is that from which all things spontaneously arise. This is its most fundamental ‘attribute’ vis-à-vis the human experience. In translating the next line as whoever knows what Heaven does lives the life generated by Heaven, Graham emphasizes how this understanding is expressed in a life lived spontaneously.

Cleary makes this point even more clearly when he translates: Those who know what Nature does, live naturally. Ziporyn, on the other hand, translates so as to emphasize Heaven’s ‘attribute’ of spontaneous generation, not man’s subsequent expression of it: just in being the Heavenly, as the way all things are born, what it does is bring them into being. What all these have in common is an understanding that what Heaven does is not doing at all, but rather, the accomplishment of all without doing anything. Things naturally arise from Nature. The True Man is the one who similarly lives naturally, that is, in spontaneity.

As said previously, this entire discussion is really about the Human, for it is the Human that cares to discuss it. The Human, homo sapiens, thinks even about thinking. And though much reference is made to the Heavenly, the purpose is to ascertain how a person is to live in relation to it.

This is very clear in Legge who sees the mention of the Heavenly only as manifest in the human experience: He who knows the part the Heavenly (in him) plays, and knows (also) that which the Human (in him ought to) play, has reached the perfection (of knowledge). He who knows the part the Heavenly plays (knows) that it is naturally born with him . . . Though highly interpretive, I think this gives the actual intent of the statement. There is in the human that which is given and cannot be overcome (life and death, for example) and there is a given freedom to respond to those givens in harmony or disharmony.

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

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