Thursday, July 25, 2013

Finding the Empty Room III: Another Lost Me

Scott Bradley

Before I find what moves me into activity, it is myself that is full and real. But as soon as I find what moves me, it turns out that 'myself' has never begun to exist. Is that what you mean by being empty?" "Confucius said, 'Exactly.'
(Zhuangzi 4:10; Ziporyn)
Zhuangzi gets unusually unambiguous here.

The 'price' of the freedom that ensues from finding the emptiness that we are at our core is the loss of our sense of being a concrete self. Yet it is no loss at all; we cannot lose what "has never begun to exist" in the first place. And though such an apparent loss might seem scary on this side of the river, we can faintly hear upon the wind a joyous laughter from what must be the other side.

The transformation from a fixed to an unfixed self is another facet of the core vision of Zhuangzi's philosophy. Something grasped as fixed in an ever-transforming world is not only a delusion, but the central cause of so much of our suffering and fear. Though there may be nothing wrong with delusions per se, this one renders us dysfunctional. Admittedly, I can only speculate on the experience of 'having' no-fixed-self, but I think a bit of imaginative meditation can give us an inkling, and for me, that feels like joyous freedom.

When we speak of the effort to lose one's self, various painful penances may come to mind, but Zhuangzi would have none of that. This is not war. Only self wages war. In fact, this is what it enjoys most. Rather, Zhuangzi suggests we simply experience and embrace the fullness of our humanity, a fullness which arises from and returns to emptiness.

"What moves me" is qi, life that wells up from apparent nothingness, life that happens. Finding this interface of existence and non-existence where our very life wells up, one discovers, as Zhuangzi elsewhere shares, "the springtime of being". And not only that, but one is also able to participate in, enjoy and affirm the springtime arising of every other being. What fun!

This may also all be delusional; it is, after all, just a philosophy of cope, a way of imagining the world, a happy way of dreaming the dream; but then if it is all just a dreaming, perhaps this one is a happily functioning one. In the end, all is well, in any case. Or perhaps you believe that "the Truth shall set you free", and that finding that, knowing that, is prerequisite to freedom. Then, your release is contingent; and I can only wish you good luck.

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

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