Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shenzi IV

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)
Our first impression of these values may be that they are extreme — impractical and unrealizable. But then we must remember that they are expressions of an "ironic dao". This is to say that they do not necessarily destroy what they negate, but rather transform it. Thus, we have the knowing that is not-knowing, the doing that is not-doing, the dao that is not-a-dao. In the case of wuwei (not-doing) for example, we are not enjoined to stop doing, to become vegetative "quietists", but rather to do our doing in a way altogether different from how we would normally do it. This involves a certain release of our grip upon the how and the wherefore of it. We do not make it happen; we let it happen even as we are making it happen. We are similarly not bound by outcomes; our inner repose is not affected by the success or failure of our endeavors. Cook Ding danced his butcher's dance, blinked, and wondered at the perfectly completed task laying all about him. The job got done, though he was not entirely sure how it was done.

"Choicelessly moving along with things" can thus be taken to suggest choosing that is a non-choosing; life hardly allows for any other interpretation. Will you go with me to the lake? If you are to 'move along with me', you must choose. But that choice can be made without it having a grip upon you, without your peace being dependent upon how it pans out. There would therefore be no arising of "I should have gone" or "I should not have gone". Choicelessness would then be a choosing without attachment to or fear of outcomes.

Still, these values may be overstated; the author didn't live them; the 'ancients' didn't live them; Shenzi didn't live them. It is unlikely that we or anyone else could ever live them. What then is the point in reciting them? Let us hope that the author had enough self-awareness to realize that his saying was not doing and thereby absolve him of the vices of self-deception and hypocrisy, though I suspect this is overly generous. More to the point, let us admit that our saying is no match for doing. But then the very unattainability of these values makes that much easier to do. They are then simply expressions of an ideal way of being that we would do well to attempt to approximate, and in that approximating, grow. Once again we are asked to forego our need for things to be 'true' and 'real'. There is no "ancient Art of the Dao"; nor does there need to be.

It needs to be said that this is my take; I suspect the author was himself a "nook and cranny scholar" in the sense that he had fixed himself in the belief that there really was such a Dao, people who had realized it, and that he, because he articulates it, somehow embodies it.

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

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