Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The Great Mystery As Teacher IX: The Single Body

Scott Bradley


Four guys happened to fall into conversation and one of them said: “‘Who can see nothingness as his own head, life as his own spine, and death as his own ass? Who knows the single body formed by life and death, existence and non-existence? I will be his friend!’" "The four looked at one another and laughed, feeling complete concord, and became friends" (6:40).

This single exercise of understanding life and death as "one body", forming "a single thread", is repeatedly offered by Zhuangzi as a means to releasing into Mystery. After 'Confucius' has shown himself too close-minded to accept the ex-con Toeless Shushan, Lao Dan (Laozi) asks, "Why don't you simply let him see life and death as a single string, acceptable and unacceptable as a single thread, thus releasing him from his fetters" (5:13)? To truly do this, to go there, somehow helps us release our grip on this particular life that we are, so as to let ourselves wander in Mystery.

Admittedly, this equates to a release of our overwhelming desire to be a fixed and eternal self, and this is no easy task; yet reality seems to teach us that this is self-deceit in any case. Nothingness is our head; death is our ass. We take the flight of existence from Oblivion to Oblivion; in this the journey is complete. Thus is Zhuangzi able to exclaim, “Heaven and earth are born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one” (2:32). The circle of our own emergence and return is none other than the circle of the Totality.

In this, our existence is affirmed. In this we laugh. In this we soar. In this we are released to wander free and unfettered by fear.

In this we are able to "hand it all over to the unavoidable", accepting with equanimity all the vicissitudes of life that shall certainly befall us. Shortly after their bonding in friendship, one of these men becomes grotesquely disfigured by disease, but hobbling to the well to see his reflection, laughs at what he has become and affirms whatever is to come. Another is soon on his death bed and asks, "[W]here could I go that would not be alright" (6:44)?

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

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