[L]ooked at from the point of view of their sameness, all things are one. . . . You just release the mind to play in the harmony of all Virtuosities.
(Zhuangzi 5:5-6; Ziporyn)
How very Zhuangzian of Zhuangzi! Virtuosities is that little word de that we find so hard to understand. We might be trying too hard, and these proto-daoists might not themselves have been able to satisfy themselves on the issue for all we know. I would like to render it here as: “all manifestations of reality, whether of things or of events.”
With the introductory proviso that it should not be thought that Ziporyn’s rendering, or any other, can be parsed as if holy writ, I would like to now do just that. In other words, this is just my take, a take that like every other is as valid as any other, including Zhuangzi’s. I understand de as having two meanings. First, it is as suggested above, every manifestation of reality, however expressed. Secondly, it is the attainment of the full possibilities of that manifestation. This second meaning would seem to apply only to human beings in that we alone, as best we can tell, have the power to fail of our possibilities. Very much like dao, we are both necessarily ‘it’ and yet able to realize ‘it’ more fully. We can not deviate from dao, do so, and re-discover ‘it’ .
There are lots of de’s to harmonize, not one de. The implication is that this is not a bunch of sages harmonizing with each other, but rather a sage capable of harmonizing with a bunch of non-sages and all their screwy ideas and behaviors. Understanding the sameness of things does not subvert the differences of things.
“Just release your mind.” Do something. This is what I understand as imaginative meditation. It is the use of the mind to realize a kind of mind: “He uses his understanding to discover [the capacities of] his mind and then makes use of that mind of his to develop a mind for the constant.” (5:8)
“Just release your mind to play.” Freedom of mind is freedom to play with and enjoy every de. What plays? The mind plays. The philosophical Daoist vision of ‘awakening’ is not of one that escapes the human experience, but of one that realizes its humanity more fully. It is not the discovery of some ‘true nature’, but of the nature we already are and experience.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.