Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beyond Power, Beyond Qi II

Scott Bradley

"Thus, although the Zhuangzi is using a terminology very similar to the self-cultivation literature, it is in fact offering a gnosis different from that obtainable by the spirit specialists and that described in the self-cultivation literature itself." So Michael Puett sums up his thesis in "The Notion of Spirit in the Zhuangzi" (Hiding the World in the World). Apart from the use of the word "gnosis", which for me connotes meanings far removed from the spirit of Zhuangzi, this statement well represents the side of the divide upon which I fall. It needs to be re-iterated, however, that this distancing of the philosophy of Zhuangzi from the self-cultivation tradition is not intended as a dismissal of that tradition, but rather simply an attempt to really get at the heart of his message. This having been said, I am of the opinion that making Zhuangzi just one more neidan (the Daoist path of spiritual attainment through meditation with the usual concomitant mix of metaphysical assumptions) practitioner eviscerates the uniqueness of his way.

Admittedly, we are hard pressed on every side when we take this stand. Zhuangzi appears in the midst of this tradition, uses its vocabulary, makes some of his sages apparent representatives of this tradition. It probably pre-dates him; it certainly quickly overcame and subsumed his own message. It is "unscientific" to remove that message from its historical context, to make of it something radically different. And, as I have previously opined, in the final analysis, it is more "religion" that we really want, or if not that, that it should in any case be seen as "religious".

Nevertheless, I am of the opinion that when Zhuangzi's message is allowed to emerge without our first pre-contextualizing it as just one more religious treatise (or, in answer to Hansen, one more expression of linguistic skepticism), then what does emerge is a philosophy that eschews all religious pursuit, one that recommends an experience of mystical transcendence devoid of all religious belief. But then perhaps my opinion is being formed by own pre-contextualizing point of view, my own desire for a way both non-religious and yet spiritually liberating. But that's okay. And that it is okay is in fact what Zhuangzi's philosophy makes possible.

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

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