Monday, August 12, 2013

The Great Mystery As Teacher VIII: The Dangle and Release

Scott Bradley


Now for something a little different: A lesson from a misunderstanding of the text. But then how can I know that everything I presume to say here is not just that? Why should that matter? "You don't have to get it 'right' to get it." This is good news. Do we ever get it right? What we "get", should anything ever be gotten, has little to do with words and understanding. What is it? A smile is a good start. A joke explained is no joke at all.

My first encounter with Zhuangzi was Thomas Merton's adaptation, The Way of Chuang Tzu. One of the several chapters that fascinated me is entitled "The Hanged Man", a creative adaptation of a passage about the meaning of life in the light of death. "This is what the ancients called 'the Dangle and Release'. We cannot release ourselves — being beings, we are always tied up by something." (6:40; Ziporyn) Merton transforms this into something like this: "It is said that 'the hanged man cannot cut himself down'; but not to worry, nature will eventually get him down."

Such indifference! Such insouciance! What a wonderfully shocking metaphor for "handing it all over to the unavoidable." Such trust. I wasn't sure what this all meant, but I knew it was something I wanted to further explore. Now here I am, a prodigious pontificator on things Zhuangzian. Taking my turn at misunderstanding. And learning to smile.

I once asked Brook Ziporyn if the text supported this spin, and after prefacing his reply with "isn't it great?", answered that no it does not. So what?

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

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