Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shenzi III

Scott Bradley

All-embracing and non-partisan, unstrained and unbiased, unhesitating but without any fixed direction, going worth to things without secondary considerations, ignoring all calculations, uninvolved in any clever schemes, choicelessly moving along with things: these were aspects of the ancient Art of the Dao. Peng Meng, Tian Pian, and Shen Dao got wind of them and were delighted.
(Zhuangzi 33; Ziporyn)
The author of the Tianxia ("All Under Heaven") introduces each philosopher or group of like-minded philosophers with a description of what aspect of the 'true' Dao seems to have most inspired them. His criticism of each is that they all attach to only one "corner" of the true Dao and thus fail to encompass the whole which, except for among an unnamed few in the district of Lu (home of Confucius and Mencius), has largely been lost. Taken as a whole, these introductory remarks give us a wide view of what he understood the "ancient Art of the Dao" to have been. But this is a subject for another study. For our present purposes, it is enough to know that whatever his criticism of Shenzi, he believes him to have at least attempted to give expression to these positive values. We thus have two sets of values to ponder, those which the author believes Shenzi appreciated and Shenzi's actual use of them.

Before we consider the first of these sets of values in detail, it is worth noticing that they are all descriptive of a 'state' of mind; they are psychological expressions. The "Art of Dao" is thus a way of being in the world, not some metaphysical entity. It may be that these attitudinal ways of being in the world require being informed by some metaphysic, but the author does not seem to think it necessary to tell us what it is, if this is so. Were we to ask today who is a Christian we would likely hear a recital of doctrinal beliefs, 'facts' which a Christian believes. Here we have something entirely different — a description of psychological behaviors. This alone is well worth pondering if we wish to understand how these ancient Chinese philosophies differ from our contemporary tendency to found everything on 'facts'. Things must be 'true'. These philosophies are much more concerned that they work. From the Zhuangzian perspective, the efficacy of a dao is all that can be judged in any case; our knowing of the 'truth' of things is entirely "unfixed" and thus unrealizable.

We need not 'cross-over' to this point of view, though the sentiment expressed here is that it would be liberating to do so. It is no easy task, in any case; these tendencies permeate our entire interface with reality. But to simply entertain the possibility of this different take on how we might best live can have a positive effect. And this requires just a bit of imaginative meditation: "How would it feel . . . ?"

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

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