Thursday, November 14, 2013

Zhuangzi Prepares To Die I

Scott Bradley

Zhuangzi was dying, and his disciples wanted to give him a lavish funeral. Zhuangzi said to them, 'I will have heaven and earth as my coffin and crypt, the sun and moon for my paired jades, . . . all creatures for my tomb gifts and pallbearers. My funeral accoutrements are already fully prepared! What could possibly be added?'
(Zhuangzi 32; Ziporyn)
Like so much that is profoundly simple, this story can elicit a cursory nod before we move on to things meatier. I propose to stop and consider it with the question, What if Zhuangzi really, really felt this, and these are not just poetic sentiments? This, I think, might lead us to better understand the deeply liberating psychological impact of "hiding the world in the world".

Before beginning, however, a few words on the story generally are in order. We do not know who wrote it, or whether he is narrating an actual event, or simply making it up. Thus, we do not know if Zhuangzi did say or would have said these things. But since we are not interested in hero or guru-worship, none of these things are important. At this remove, the point of the story can only be to teach. So, let us learn.

The author's intent is not to lead us to an admiration of Zhuangzi, but to reveal in storied form how releasing oneself into mystery liberates from the fear of death. I have entitled this post "Zhuangzi Prepares to Die", but the implication is that he has long been prepared for death. In life he has released himself into all the givens of life, and among these, death is the most unavoidable. This has transformed his way of living. In this sense, this story is as ever much about life as it is about death.

"Hiding the world in the world so that nothing can be lost" is Zhuangzi's metaphor for this release into mystery. We could say it is a release into the Totality, or into the Oneness, but these words might lead us to believe in, and thus depend on, some particular outcome. Yet, Zhuangzi's letting go into mystery requires no belief, though we might say that it requires trust.

We entrust ourselves to mystery. Do we really have any choice? The only alternative is to fight back in fear against what cannot be avoided or in any way altered in any case.

There is the option of belief, of course, and this we will address in the following post.

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

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