Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Great Mystery As Teacher VII: It's All Good

Scott Bradley

Now the human form in time undergoes ten thousand transformations, never stopping for an instant — so the joys it brings must be beyond calculation! Hence, the sage uses it in that from which nothing ever escapes, where all things are maintained. Early death, old age, the beginning, the end — this allows him to see each thing as good.
(Zhuangzi 6:28-9; Ziporyn)
Zhuangzi speaks of the sage, and in so doing directs us to an individual and his or her manner of being in the world. Otherwise, we might find ourselves in the incessant ethical dilemma that always rears its head when we attempt to universalize what is intended as an entirely individual perspective. If the sage considers her early death "good", this is because she has the perspective, the view from Dao, that allows her to do so. She has identified with the totality of endless transformation, and thus death, early or otherwise, is simply one more. But though she might invite you to share in that perspective when you face an early death, it is doubtful that she would try and convince you that it is "good". It's only "good" when we as individuals allow it to be.

Yet ultimately the sage recognizes how that it is all good. How could it be otherwise? Even the horrible is good. The praying mantis likes to begin with the eyes as it eats its living prey; how can we draw moral distinctions between the various ways nature manifests itself? What unfolds is "good". Because it does; because it is thus and so. Yes, this does not sit well with us; philosophical Daoism invites us to consider why this is so. Given a choice, Daoism chooses the harder path; it identifies the dissonance as a consequence of our recently evolved moral dualism, part of the entire apparatus of the "understanding consciousness" that sunders all things into self and other, good and bad, acceptable and unacceptable, divine and diabolical.

How is it the harder path? We need only attempt it to know; our visceral repugnance and refusal to even do that are evidence enough. What do we fear? Why is it so hard? Can we not get a sense of the box into which we have put ourselves? All that Zhuangzi really suggests as a liberating experience is that we only see just that; we needn't even step out of that box. Even if we were to do so, our humanity would best be fulfilled in stepping back in, though would it not now be tempered with a smile?

I have most unsagaciously digressed into universalizing what must be an individual experience, untransmittable to be sure. But then I'm just dealing with it in the realm of words.

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

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