Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Great Mystery As Teacher II: Releasing Into Mystery

Scott Bradley


Zhuangzi opens his sixth chapter with what seems to be a stock statement of philosophical wisdom. He then proceeds to deconstruct it. The gist of this wisdom is that to know what is of Heaven, that over which we have no control, and what is of the human, that which we can control, is the foundation for our most effective interface with the world. This seems true enough; we've seen it inscribed on plaques hung on bathroom walls: "Lord, teach me . . . ."

But Zhuangzi, in his own characteristic and endearing way says, "However, there is a problem here." That problem, not surprisingly, is that we really have no sure knowledge at all about what is of Heaven and what is of the human. We have no idea whatsoever if there is anything such as free-will at all; it may be that everything we do is fated to be done by us because we are us. Guo Xiang came to this conclusion: "'Heaven' is just a way of saying 'what is so of itself, the self-so'. For doing cannot be done by someone 'doing' doing. Doing is spontaneously doing; it is self-so." And again: "[N]o thing is any way but the way it should be. . . . But none of this is done by myself. What then is there to do but let it all come when it spontaneously comes?" (Ziporyn)

From Zhuangzi's perspective, Guo's fatalism makes essentially the same mistake as the conventional wisdom he rejects; it knows. However, I think Zhuangzi would agree with his conclusion that we might therefore just let it all spontaneously unfold. Whether what we do is done through free-agency or because we must really makes no difference, for we do it just the same. The point is to get on with the living.

Yet for Zhuangzi there is a place of psychological freedom (even if fated!), and this is realized in not depending on anything, known or otherwise. The problem with the conventional view that assumes free-will and Guo's is that "our understanding can be right only by virtue of a relation of dependence on something, and always what it depends on is peculiarly unfixed" (6:5). Reason is a farce, however wonderful a tool it might be, for it is only and always built on the foundation of the fantasy of its own self-assured validity. Truly releasing oneself into spontaneous doing is a consequence not of doing so because of conclusions reached, but of releasing oneself into Mystery, which is to say, depending on nothing, opening into infinite vulnerability.

And now is the time for a chuckle. For none of this really matters; all is well in any and every case. Or is that just releasing oneself into Mystery?

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

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