Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Beyond Power, Beyond Qi IV

Scott Bradley

As part of his argument ("The Notion of Spirit in the Zhuangzi"; Hiding the World in the World) for the unique character of Zhuangzi's vision of freedom from things vis-a-vis the paradigms of power over things (shamanism) or power to become something other than a thing (Daoist self-cultivation and the realization of "purified qi"), Puett offers Zhuangzi's version of the "True Man" (zhenren): "When neither Heaven nor man overcome the other — this is called the True Man." (6:22) On the one hand, we do not attempt to subvert the inevitable (as in the pursuit of immortality); that would be to attempt to overcome Heaven. On the other hand, we do not attempt to transcend our humanity; that would be to have Heaven overcome our humanity.

This being so, Puett suggests we read Zhuangzi's ideal "spirit-man" quite literally: "A spirit-man is not a man who becomes a spirit. A spirit-man is rather a man who fully cultivates his spirit and thus wanders free from things while enabling things (including his own human form) to fulfill their natural endowment."

Zhuangzian self-cultivation thus fully affirms the human experience and envisions no flight or escape from that experience, but rather suggests utilizing it as a means to transcendence. This is what is implied in the culminating exclamation of his opening call to non-dependence: "But suppose you were to chariot upon what is true both to Heaven and to earth, riding atop the back-and-forth of the six atmospheric breaths, so that your wanderings could nowhere be brought to a halt. You would then depend on — what?" (1:8; Ziporyn)

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

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