Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Tianxia II

Scott Bradley


I am taking Victor Mair to task for having told us that the author of the Tianxia ("The World Under Heaven") chapter (the 33rd) of the Zhuangzi is so anti-Confucian that he does not deign to include him in his analysis of the philosophies of his day. I take the exact opposite view, namely that he does not mention Confucius or his disciples except obliquely, because he believes them to be beyond criticism. They are, in fact, the sole contemporary practitioners of the complete "ancient Art of the Dao".

That the philosophical orientation of the author of Tianxia is decidedly Confucian seems abundantly clear. He begins by telling us that the 'true' Dao must realize both "sagely holiness" and "kingly wisdom". This inward sagacity and outward kingliness, that is the twin virtues of sageliness and political involvement, was a cornerstone of Confucian orthodoxy at the time of the author's writing, and was, in fact, an important point of contrast by which to attack the perceived quietism of the Daoist point of view.

"He for whom Humanity is the stuff of beneficence, Responsibility the guideline [li], Ritual the normal practice, and Music the source of harmony, everywhere exuding compassion and humanity, is called an Exemplary Man." (Ziporyn) If this is not a positive endorsement of Confucianism, I don't know what is.

Though largely lost, the 'true' Dao can still be found among certain "gentlemen of Zou and Lu". Confucius was from the state of Lu and Mencius, his most famous disciple, was from Zou. These unnamed worthies, we are told moreover, are all scholars of the Six Classics of Confucianism and made ample use of them in their exposition of Dao.

In just now perusing these introductory comments I have come upon a note by Ziporyn that makes my point succinctly (and with considerably more authority): "It is noteworthy that the author of this chapter conspicuously omits an entry on the Confucians as one of the present-day schools that understands only one side of the Course [Dao]. Instead, they are presented as the direct inheritors of what is left of its completeness."

As always, I feel compelled to ask, So what? For those interested in better understanding the philosophies this author takes under consideration, especially that of Zhuangzi, then his own philosophical bias must also be understood and kept in mind. So what? can, and perhaps should, be asked to infinite regress, of course, but I will stop here by simply suggesting that these philosophies may help to more enjoyable living.

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

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