Sunday, August 4, 2013

Beyond the Human Inclinations VII: Beyond Is Within

Scott Bradley

Huizi has been debating with Zhuangzi as to how a human being can be without the products of an 'understanding consciousness' — making moral judgments about things, creating explanations and reasons for things, "adding to the process of life" — and still be called a human being. In the end, Zhuangzi throws up his hands and says, "You treat your spirit like a stranger!" It is the most immediate inner experience of life within us that, should we unite with it and let it live us, will free us from precisely this alienation from ourselves.

Earlier in the chapter, Zhuangzi makes essentially this same point, but in a way that even more explicitly demonstrates how going beyond these apparently necessary human inclinations is actually a return within to our fundamental life experience.

All the events that come upon us are but the "proceedings of fate", and we cannot begin to understand how or why they happen. This being the case, "there is no need to let them disrupt our harmony, and we must deny them entrance into our Numinous Reservoir. That is what allows the joy of its harmony to open into all things without losing its fullness . . . taking part everywhere as the springtime of each being. Connecting up with This, your own mind becomes the site of the life-giving time." (5:16; Ziporyn)

Dr. Ziporyn describes the Numinous Reservoir as the "ideal state of mind of the Zhuangzian person." When we connect up with the unmediated experience of life welling up within us, we participate not only in our own springtime, but also in that of every other being. And this is the Zhuangzian vision; not a flight from ourselves or things, but a complete immersion within them.

This is not something I have experienced. Nor is it sure that even Zhuangzi did so. I suspect not. If this is the case, then no 'enlightenment' is on offer here, but only an approximating exercise of meditative imagination that nevertheless allows for an experience of some of what is envisioned. Such a view is, I believe, entirely consistent with Zhuangzi's point of view generally; he suggests no 'final answer', no complete 'cure'. To do so would be to fall once again into folly of subscribing to Truth at the expense of fleeing our true existential reality of drift and doubt. Though we can make of this philosophy yet another promise of complete escape from these fundamental exigencies, I think those who wish to do so would be happier elsewhere. How about Zen?

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

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