Saturday, September 28, 2013

Still More on the Butterfly Dream IV

Scott Bradley

When I was a kid I had this sudden idea (insight?) that at death one becomes a new consciousness without the transference of identity. I have never been able to understand it well enough to put it into words. Even now, the statement above says "one becomes", which of course suggests a transference of identity. When I told my mother, she said this was not a new idea, but simply the belief in reincarnation. I knew immediately that this was not what I had 'seen', but was unable to better articulate it from then until now, more than fifty years later.

Perhaps one way to try and get a handle on this is to take consciousness as primary and identity as secondary. You and I are absolutely different identities, but we share the experience of consciousness, and it is consciousness that determines identity rather than the other way around. The source of your 'I-me' is really the same as that of my 'I-me'. One can lose one's 'I-me', one's particular identity, but consciousness continues as a completely other 'I-me' identity.

I obviously have made little progress in the attempt to articulate this. Perhaps in another fifty years as another 'I-me' 'I' will have more success, but language does not seem capable of saying anything without reference to identity; a word stands for something.

All this comes to mind because in Zhuangzi's butterfly dream story the conclusion tells us that Zhuangzi and the butterfly are definitely two separate identities. If this is the case, then the identity of both is exceedingly tenuous, to say the least. Zhuangzi does not 'become' a butterfly; he ceases to be Zhuangzi; the butterfly never was Zhuangzi; there is no discernible connection between them.

This observation is not intended to tell us how things actually are; how could we possibly know such a thing? It is therapeutic. It is intended to help us to release our grip on our identity now, in this life. Why? Because Zhuangzi identifies this addiction to being a someone, a someone who must ever strive to try and be a someone in a context of absolute groundlessness, to be the cause of so much of our individual and collective grief.

The Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi are little more than a ‘how to manual’ that might best be put in the ‘self-help’ section of the library. I know I say this ad nausea, but it is essential to the ‘how to’ and the ‘help’ that we realize this is not intended as a metaphysical explanation of things or a way to be ‘saved’ from the stark implications of death. Reality remains Mystery.

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

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