Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shenzi VII

Scott Bradley

They began by equalizing things, saying, "Heaven can cover things but cannot support them; earth can support things but cannot cover them; the Great Dao can encompass things but cannot distinguish between them."
(Zhuangzi 33; Ziporyn) (Note: Ziporyn translates Dao as "Course"; I prefer the more flexible Dao and take the liberty to change it.)
I stated previously that I have difficulty understanding how this (and following) quotes definitively demonstrate the conclusions the author draws from them. Here, I also don't understand how this distinction between Heaven and earth supports the parallel that Dao encompasses but does not distinguish. Nevertheless, we are able to understand from this statement that Shenzi and friends understood Dao to be "all embracing and non-partisan", the idea of which the author tells us they had "got wind of", but later tells us "they really did not know".

Dao is all-embracing and thus is ultimately equalizing. This perspective is what is metaphorically revealed in the idea of "hiding the world in the world where nothing is lost". It is not that we cannot make distinctions between things and behaviors, but that when informed of the equality of things we also have a sense in which these distinctions are relative and ultimately inconsequential.

The real question this treatment asks, however, is what Shenzi meant by "the Great Dao". Is this a metaphysical Dao? Does this support Chad Hansen's assertion that Shenzi was an "absolutist"? And, more importantly, if he was, and Zhuangzi was not, what can we learn from their differences?

The comparison with Heaven and earth seems to suggest a metaphysical Dao. We can drop the definite article "the" and the capitalization since they do not exist in the Chinese and which connote a definite something to our ear, but still that it is "great" suggests it is more than just a point of view. Ziporyn's rendering "Great Course" somewhat resolves the question since "course" is intended to convey the idea that dao is a "course of study", not an entity, but this is precisely why I find the universal translation of dao as "course" problematical; it is too inflexible.

Based on this quote and ones to follow (which for reasons of brevity I must consider in later posts) it seems to me, therefore, that Shenzi did in fact believe in a metaphysical Dao. And I, for my part, have drawn from the conclusions to which that belief led him — most especially, his assertion that a "clump of earth cannot stray from Dao". Perhaps this is one reason the author concludes that Shenzi did not "know" the Dao. For him, we must remember, it is the "Art of the Dao" that is under consideration, not a metaphysical entity. If Shenzi “knows” of a Dao beyond the art of dao, then he knows neither.

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

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