Monday, July 15, 2013

Archer Yi III: Living Beyond Praise

Scott Bradley

I have mentioned that there are three instances in which Archer Yi appears in the Zhuangzi. The first, which we have already considered, appears in the Inner Chapters; the other two are found in chapters described (correctly, I think) by Graham as representative of the "School of Zhuangzi".

In Chapter 23 we are told that Archer Yi was skillful at hitting targets but not at avoiding being praised for doing so. We might ask how he could possibly have escaped this praise. Perhaps he could not and the author's intent is to contrast the 'useful' skills of normal human activity with those apparently 'useless' and unpraiseworthy skills of the sage.

But again, we might ask how someone who is truly sagacious, someone whom Zhuangzi elsewhere suggests cannot help but draw others to herself, could possibly avoid praise. Some sages, who are so recognized, are described as fleeing to the forest or caves in an attempt to escape praise. Others stay in place while remaining unaffected by the attention of others. How then do we reconcile this apparent contradiction? On the level of how a sage is perceived by others, I do not think such a reconciliation is possible; the object of these stories is to point to the inner experience of the sage, not his effect upon others.

Whether praised or not, the sage remains unaffected. Her joy depends on nothing exterior to herself; indeed, her joy is consequent to her release from all such psychological dependencies.

All this about 'sages' sounds a bit ethereal and far removed from our own being in the world. We can, however, forget all about these hypothetical and grandiose expressions of Daoist principles and simply consider how much happier we might be were we to merely approximate such a freedom from concern for the opinions of others — and not only that, but also even a concern for our own opinion of ourselves. It's never about being or becoming someone other than who we are, but in understanding how who we are, how ever we are, is a perfect expression of Dao. We are perfect in that we are perfectly who we are. There is nothing we need become.

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

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