Saturday, October 5, 2013

Building on Zhuangzi VII

Scott Bradley

I'll close this series with some final looks at the same passage considered in the previous post, this time using Ziporyn's translation:
From the point of view of the Course [Dao], no thing is more valuable than any other. But from the point of view of itself, each thing is worth more and all the others are worth less. And from the point of view of convention, the value of things is not determined by themselves.
(Zhuangzi, 17)
All three of these points of view are entirely affirmable. All three can be simultaneously exercised. This in itself is profoundly significant.

It is the view from Dao which makes this simultaneity of walking different roads possible, of course. Without this view, each individual remains fixed in its own narrow self-absorption. Illuminated by the view from Dao each individual can continue to pursue its own self-interests, as all things must and, indeed, as life itself requires them to do, but now its isolated individuality is tempered by a larger view. Now its white-knuckled grip on its own self-importance can be relaxed. Since all things are of equal value, the individual thing discovers its value as intrinsic and need not judge other things as of less value in order to prop up its own.

This helps to illustrate what Ziporyn means by Zhuangzi's "holistic omnicentrism". Centrism is the idea that one thing is the center. Unicentrism is the idea that there is One and things derive their value from this One. Omnicentrism understands how each and every thing is its own center and is thus the source of its own value. This was Guo Xiang's insightful interpretation of Zhuangzi: "Each thing self-generates, without recourse to anything that goes beyond itself." Or again, "It is all individual beings that form the very substance of heaven and earth, and it is each being's self-so that aligns true to itself. 'Self-so' means what is so of itself, without being done by anyone or for any purpose."

This omnicentrism is also holistic. The understanding that each thing has its own intrinsic worth also understands that this worth does not rest in comparison with other things, but in the view from Dao where all things are of equal value. Self-affirmation is thus universal affirmation. In this way, one's necessary self-interest is transformed into a universal interest.

Again, Guo Xiang makes this connection when he suggests that the sage "vanishingly unifies self and other" or "vanishingly disappears into things". This disappearance could easily be misunderstood as the loss of individuality if one does not remember that what makes it possible is precisely the preceding radical affirmation of individuality.

Thus, the universal affirmation of things that is the Dao-perspective also affirms things in their own intrinsic centrism, yet enables them to likewise affirm all other things in theirs.

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

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