Sunday, July 14, 2013

Archer Yi I: Embracing One's Fate

Scott Bradley

Only a true Virtuoso can understand what is unavoidable and find peace in it as his own fate. If you play around Archer Yi's target, lurking near the bull's-eye, it is only normal to get hit. If you manage not to get hit, that's just fate, good luck.
(Zhuangzi 5:12; Ziporyn)
These words are spoken by a certain Shen Tujia, "a one-footed convict", to a fellow disciple of Uncle Dim Nobody. Though he sits together with Shen before one who teaches the open, all-affirming mind of Dao, this man, a government official of some standing, cannot see past the intended stigma of disgrace that the amputation of Shen's foot was intended to convey. Yet this disgrace becomes precisely the means by which he, Zichan, can break the bars of the cage of a narrow, self-limiting mind. "Every enslavement is also an ennobling"; those things which seem to limit us the most are precisely our most immediate opportunities to transcend and soar. Like with the mighty bird Peng, who depends on ninety thousand feet of air to soar so high that the blue above becomes a blue below, it is the exigencies of existence that enable our freedom.

This call to embrace the unavoidable is central to Zhuangzi's philosophy. Though it may seem at first glance to be a kind of begrudging resignation, it is quite the opposite. It is rooted in affirmation, not negation. And its fruits are thankfulness and joy.

There are those unavoidables common to us all — loss, sorrow, sickness and death — and though we are right to attempt to delay them for as long as possible, they will all come to us in the end. There are also those things which happen to us because of the life decisions we have made. Shen lost his foot because he chose to lurk near the bull's-eye. It may be that he stole a loaf of bread or that he stood up for the oppressed; it doesn't really matter. He is who he is now, and though the consequences of his past remain ever with him, they are also an ever-present spring-board for freedom in this very moment. We need not be our past, but that which thankfully and affirmingly holds it in our embrace and thereby soars above and beyond it.

Archer Yi appears three times in the Zhuangzi; yet though his skill must surely have been consummate, this only renders him handy for illustrating skills of much greater importance.

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

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