Saturday, August 3, 2013

Beyond the Human Inclinations VI: Adding Nothing to Life

Scott Bradley

What I call being free of them [the characteristic human inclinations] 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.
(Zhuangzi 5:23; Ziporyn)
This last phrase "without trying to add anything to the process of life" is one I often quote. Its meaning may not be immediately obvious, but in this context it would seem to refer to our propensity for dividing the world up according to rights and wrongs. This is an addition to the process of life. It follows that life itself makes no such distinctions.

Always Zhuangzi would have us return to the barest experience of life. In the previous chapter, when Yan "finds that which moves" him he discovers that his self "has never begun to exist". What moves him is the up-welling of life (qi), and the egoic-self, it seems, is also something added to life; something we make up. Similarly, all our explanations about the purpose for life, all these religious beliefs promising us a spiritual 'birthright' and an assured destiny, are additions to life. Life does not require them. Life requires no purpose, no reason to be, no divine plan, no hope. It is sufficient unto itself. It is immediate and unmediated.

This, at any rate, is what I think Zhuangzi is telling us. Connect up with life itself, the life that we have obscured with all our rationalizing and analysis. "I think, therefore I am", I hope, I guess, so it would seem. This is where we have arrived — alienated from our own existence.

This is perhaps one of the most difficult of Zhuangzi's ideas to grasp; it is so alien. This is not how we live and it is hard to imagine a way so devoid of our characteristic inclinations.

The dialogue closes with Zhuangzi chastising Huizi for his obstinate clinging to the 'understanding consciousness': "Now you, on the other hand, treat your spirit like a stranger . . ." That, I think, pretty much sums up the situation with humanity generally.

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

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