Friday, November 15, 2013

Zhuangzi Prepares To Die II

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)
What I think this story attempts to convey is that in releasing himself into mystery, in “hiding the world in the world so that nothing can be lost”, Zhuangzi has in life freed himself from the fear of death. It is a “release” because it requires the letting go of one’s grip on identity as if it were a thing not subject to the unavoidable transformations that characterize the phenomenal world. It involves “trust” because it ultimately requires that we affirm the way things appear to be and however they may actually be. Trust does not involve belief in any specific outcome; it is free of content; nothing specific need be ‘true’.

There is the option of belief, of course. There is life after death. We will (hopefully) go to heaven. Yet if this is so, it too is unavoidable and our disposition toward death would be little changed, except of course, that belief has as its mutually-generating, paired counterpart, doubt. Belief is born of doubt, and doubt of belief. Thus, our attempt to fix a firm foundation upon which to rest our anxiety and hope is precisely what makes that foundation unreliable.

I mentioned heaven without reference to its paired counterpart, hell. Of all the horrible ideas ever conceived by humankind and inflicted upon humanity, this must be the most awful. I recently heard a rabbi opine that if there is God, then there must be hell, for otherwise Anne Frank and Hitler would share the same fate. I would suggest that the mentality that gives rise to this is precisely the same that gives rise to the hell on earth that the Jewish State believes it has a right to impose upon the people of Gaza. “All history is a deserted battleground of rights and wrongs,” comments Yuan Hongdao (1568-1610). It is, most ironically, a supposedly moral ‘heaven’ that gives impetus to so much cruelty on earth.

This eschewal of all contentful belief might be mistaken for disbelief. It is not. Disbelief requires that belief be entertained in the first place. To refuse to believe that the moon is made of green cheese is not disbelief, as if disbelief were the only other possible state of mind, and that one must subscribe to one state or the other. Trust is open-heartedness, open-mindedness, and unmediated thankfulness. If we wish to call Reality God, then trust without belief is our purest, vastest expression of thankfulness, and that, I would suggest is true ‘worship’.

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

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