Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Great Mystery As Teacher III: The Demise of Understanding

Scott Bradley


Returning as if by chance to his theme of depending on nothing, Zhuangzi tells us that to believe we can figure out 'what it's all about' so as to understand how best to live is to depend on something utterly unreliable. This is the problem with depending on anything. Why depend on anything? Well, if we fear the loss of something, we will depend on things to sustain it. If we believe we need answers to live happily, then we will depend on getting them, and this will lead us to grasp the unreliable as though it were otherwise. This is not to say that we don't depend on an infinity of things; we do. But we need not be psychologically dependent on them; we need not become stressed out when their loss seems eminent. In sickness and in health, in hunger and in bounty, the sage remains at peace. Yes, she prefers the life sustaining, but not so as to be disquieted by their loss.

So we are left with "unknowing". However, there is a "Genuine Knowledge", Zhuangzi tells us. But this can only be 'known' by the "Genuine Human Being", and this is someone who understands that true knowing knows nothing at all. Yet it is not simply that; there is some other connectedness, an organic immediacy that renders knowing superfluous. Speaking of the hypothetical Genuine Human Beings "of old", Zhuangzi writes: "Such was the way their understanding was able, in its very demise, to ascend through the remotest vistas of the Course [Dao]" (6:6). The view from Dao is an understanding that requires no knowing at all.

This theme is so pervasive throughout the Inner Chapters that we hardly need discuss it again. Instead, here are just a few passages that may throw some further light upon it:
[H]e uses his understanding to discover [the capacities of] his mind and then makes use of that mind to develop his mind for the constant. (5:8)
My understanding consciousness, beholden to its specific purposes, comes to a halt, and thus the promptings of the spirit begin to flow. (3:4)
Hence, when the understanding consciousness comes to rest in what it does not know, it has reached the utmost. (2:36)

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

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