Monday, September 9, 2013

"The Infamous Yiming" I

Scott Bradley


Brook Ziporyn's essay "How Many Are the Ten Thousand Things and I?" in Hiding the World in the World follows on the heels of that essay by Roth with which I took so much exception in the previous two posts. This is somewhat ironic in as much as so much of what he has to say is in frank disagreement with that previous essay. The editor, Scott Cook, makes the point in his introduction that this is the beauty of the subject, that it ever stimulates us to lively discussion.

Ziporyn's understanding of Zhuangzi is, in fact, radically different than that of Roth; this is not simply a question of how to understand a small part, but rather in how to understand the whole. Yet, we can look at their different spins on a small part to get an idea of how their divergence there is indicative of their wider divergence. Such a part is that word which Ziporyn calls "the infamous yiming", which he translates as "The Illumination of the Obvious".

As previously recounted, Roth takes yiming to refer to a kind of awakening, an "enlightenment" through which one is united with Dao, and consequentially realizes Great Knowledge. In other words, this "illumination" refers to that intuitive understanding of how things really are, which is essentially what every other mystical tradition of which I am aware similarly advocates. Roth is by no means alone in this; but I agree with Ziporyn that this is a radical misreading of Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi asks us to realize a perspective so different and difficult, both intellectually and viscerally, that we easily get lost on the way and fall back into our normal inclination to understand mysticism as a resolution of our questions. But this is precisely the box out from which Zhuangzi would have us break free.

With typical humility, Ziporyn calls his understanding of yiming "rather unusual", but he is obviously completely convinced of its validity. For what it's worth, so am I. What is at stake here is the entire Zhuangzian project — he has either offered us just one more essentialist mystical model, one that smuggles in a resolution to our existential realities through a back door called "intuitive knowing", or he has offered us one of rare and unique existential authenticity.

Zhuangzi's yiming means, according to Ziporyn, simply "what is evident, clear, obvious". What is obvious? It is obvious that we are "confronted with the problem of a multitude of perspectives contradicting each other: namely, this fact that there are a bunch of perspectives contradicting each other. Ming then refers to this surface fact that they all affirm themselves and negate each other, that they appear as a complete confusion, an unstable mutual undermining — for after all, 'if right were really right, its difference from not-right would be so clear that there would be no dispute at all'" (2).

We are not called out and away from "chaos and doubt", but into them as an invitation to fully affirm things as they appear to be and thereby attain a point of view inclusive of all.

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

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