Monday, November 25, 2013

Intraworldly Mysticism V

Scott Bradley


All of what I have thus far said of Yearley's article "The Perfected Person in the Radical Chuang-tzu" (Experimental Essays on Chuang-tzu) may be bunk; I may have failed to understand him. The essential thing, however, is to allow the growth of clarity regarding one's own point of view, and this, it seems to me, ultimately requires decoupling one's perspective from the negation of some other. The point is to abide in affirmation, not negation; but as long as we define what 'is' by what 'is not' we remain coupled to the latter, and we have failed to find "the center of the circle". From the center of the circle, at the Axis of Dao where all things are equalized, where right and wrong "are no longer coupled as opposites", one is somehow able to embrace every expression and to understand how all our opinions, for all their mattering, do not matter at all. This, I think, is something of what Zhuangzi is about, but since I have not experienced it, I cannot really understand it.

Life and its dialectic nevertheless go on, and thus do I.

Let's return then to Yearley's thesis, forgetting that he has perhaps mistakenly taken the fruit ("going along with the present 'this'") for the root (the transformative experience that makes this possible without the conscious application of a 'principle' ["It is all just a matter of going along with the present 'this'. To do this without knowing it, and not because you have defined it as 'right', is called 'the Dao'" (2:23; Ziporyn)]). The ataraxia of the Stoic, he tells us, is the application of reason to one's circumstances in order to free one from unnecessary distress. In the case of grief, "he grieves but sees his grief as wrong when he takes a larger view. Knowledge dispels sorrow, reason diffuses emotions." It is easy to see how Zhuangzi's position can become just this, as it seems to have become in the 17th Chapter of the Zhuangzi. We are, after all, typically bound by our “understanding consciousness”, as Zhuangzi tells us, and thus automatically default to interfacing with the world through the mediation of reason. But Zhuangzi, as Yearley points out, takes a radically different position.

“Most important, the crucial notion is not that the mind dispels emotion by its possession of a general perspective. Rather the crucial notion is that the mind holds to and lets go of events as they arise, pass before you, and disappear. . . . a complex mixture of attachment and detachment. A total involvement with each moment and enjoyment of it combine with a detachment from the moment once it passes and a lack of desire that it return.” I have quoted him at length because I think he puts it quite well. This simultaneity of attachment and detachment is another way of saying we “walk two roads”, as is the term “intraworldly mysticism”.

As a cautionary note, however, it needs to be seen how this formula can also easily become just another “general perspective” to be applied as, I believe, Yearley goes on to do. There is no “radical Chuang-tzu” without his mysticism, and that obviates the need for the application of ‘principles’.

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

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