Friday, August 16, 2013

The Great Mystery As Teacher XII: Free of All Constancy

Scott Bradley


Yan comes to ‘Confucius’, his master, and declares he has forgotten Humanity and Responsibility, the two greatest values in Confucianism. Confucius is pleased, but says he has still further to go. Yan later returns and declares he has forgotten the two outward means to achieving those values, music and ritual. Confucius is again pleased; but yes, there is still further to go. Finally, Yan returns and says, "I just sit and forget." Confucius is "jolted as if kicked" (6:54).

There are ways in which Zhuangzi and Confucius had similar aspirations despite their being antipodes apart when it comes to how to realize them. We might say that Confucius followed the law while Zhuangzi followed the heart. Confucius spoke in imperatives, Zhuangzi spoke of spontaneity. Yet, in terms of conduct there might have been little difference between a Zhuangzian and Confucian sage, should there ever have been either.

In one sense, this passage turns Confucius on his head, yet in another it affirms his ultimate vision of a sage who embodies kindness without the mediation of effort; it is who he is, not what he would be. Zhuangzi might reply, however, that the means must also embody the end and that for this to happen one must forget the 'should' and simply trust in the heart.

Confucius asks what this could mean to sit and forget, though he already seems to have an inkling. Yan replies that he lets all the normal means of knowing drop away until he is "the same as the Transforming Openness". Whatever form Yan's "sitting and forgetting" took, this simple phrase offers a wonderful invitation to meditative imagination. What does this mean? How does it feel? In my experience, Openness is one of the most powerfully descriptive attributes of Zhuangzi’s vision of freedom. (My every advocacy is, of course, an admission of need.) Openness can be considered from the perspective of the limited — openness to this or that — but Zhuangzi is pointing to an openness that leads into vastness and thus one that is limitless.

For his part, Confucius seems to understand the implications of this experience: "The same as it? Then you are free of all preference! Transforming? Then you are free of all constancy!"

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

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