Monday, September 2, 2013

A Conversion Experience VII

Scott Bradley

In this way, wholeheartedly embody the endlessness and roam where there is no sign, fully realize what is received from Heaven, but without thinking anything has been gained thereby. It is just being empty, nothing more.
(7:13; Ziporyn)
The best thing this post can do is just present Zhuangzi's mystical vision for the consideration of anyone interested. The rest is simply my consideration which is of far less value for you than your own.

"Roam where there is no sign." We might think of sign posts or billboards, but though Zhuangzi most certainly did not, it doesn't matter; the call is the same. "Our homeland of not even anything" is just that. We are tempted to think of this experience as answering our questions and our needs, even in not doing so, but this would only be more of the same. 'Chen Jen' wrote: "There are no answers in emptiness; questions do not arise." For Daoism, the first assertion must certainly be the case, but I wonder about the second. Perhaps they do arise, only they require no answers. Whether or not Zhuangzi actually envisioned an awareness completely liberated from the struggles of our existential tenuousness is open for debate, but in the end, for me, it does not matter; the process is one in which those struggles are perpetually engaged.

This way, at least for me, is a way of existential engagement. It promises no 'enlightenment', no absolute liberation, no ultimate release. It is work, existential work, and it never promises to be anything more. This is what makes it genuine. There is no "pie in the sky" here. It never flees this actual human experience. In this, as a 'spiritual' path, it may be unique; but this too is unimportant except in that in making the contrast we see more clearly its existential authenticity.

This contrast between the existential and the essential is most helpful in coming to grips with how this way calls us to honesty. Essentialism always points to "higher" realities, truer truths, something more real than our apparent real. "True self", "buddha-nature", Universal Mind, Self, all these bespeak of essentialism. Zhuangzi's call is to an abandonment of all these answers in favor of an embracing of the actual human experience in its utter tenuousness, taking it as it is, letting it be what it is, riding its wave.

That this way would be a call to mystical experience should not surprise us at all; what, after all is not Mystery? The avoidance of the mystical is a denial of our actual experience. Holding ourselves back from the brink is an assertion that we have a self that is not itself Mystery. It is not 'out there' but right here, in here. It is this life. It is us.

For Zhuangzi this is mysticism without a metaphysics, without myth. It is union with nothing except our experience. Nothing is explained. No understanding is achieved. No absolutes are realized. None of our questions are answered. This reality is "what we have received from Heaven", and it is this that we are called to "fully realize".

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

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