Thursday, August 1, 2013

Beyond the Human Inclinations IV: Beyond Right and Wrong

Scott Bradley


We are considering Huizi's question to Zhuangzi: "Can a human being really be without the characteristic human inclinations?" Zhuangzi replies in the affirmative and asks in turn how, since such a one would still have the form of a human being, she could not be so called. There may be more here than I am able to perceive, but all-in-all I find his answer less than satisfying. But then we need to remember that Zhuangzi is not a believer in the ability of rational debate to deliver us to an understanding of the way of things. I am reminded of the debate on the bridge over the River Hao; he knows the happiness of fish because he sees their happiness; he need not 'prove' his ability to know it. True knowledge is unmediated. True knowledge need not 'know'.

Fortunately, Huizi persists and asks again. This time Zhuangzi explains what he means, though once again he does not deign to rationally 'prove' its validity: "Affirming some things as right and negating others as wrong are what I call the characteristic inclinations. What I call being free of them means not allowing likes and dislikes to damage you internally, instead making it your constant practice to follow along with the way each thing is of itself, going by whatever it affirms as right, without trying to add anything to the process of life." (5:23; Ziporyn) Here we have in a nutshell the mind-boggling essence of Zhuangzi's practical recipe for harmonious living. Whatever we find 'problematical' here, he might suggest, is indicative of our full participation in the characteristic human inclination of discriminating between right and wrong as if it really mattered in the context of the equalizing vastness. They matter, yes; but until we understand how they matter not, we remain part of the problem.

This advocacy of freedom from the tyranny of preferences is common to most mystical approaches to life. The opening lines of the Zen Xin-Xin Ming read, "The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences." (Clarke) On this side of the river we might wish to debate whether one can still recognize a right and a wrong among things while simultaneously not being negatively affected by them, but on the other side of the river this balance simply works itself out naturally.

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

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