Monday, December 9, 2013

Another Look at the Laozi XII

Scott Bradley


Chapter One of the Laozi tells us that metaphysical Dao cannot be known, but that isn't the end of the matter. To speak of this Dao is not anathema; it is not a sin on par with pronouncing the name Jehovah; (how is this belief in a sacred name not just more idolatry?) There 'is' metaphysical Dao, but it 'is' only by virtue of its being empty of all intelligible content. It is present only as an absence. It exists for us only as a question mark. But let us not dismiss the question mark as therefore irrelevant; it is, on the contrary, the most important thing of all, for it renders us and everything else question marks as well.

So, let's call it Mother, says Laozi. It births all things, yet it is an empty void. In the Confucian and, alas, the ancient Chinese context, a mother may have been absolutely necessary for the existence of her sons, but her value relative to theirs was zero. Mothers, daughters, sisters — the female — are necessary appendages, but play no further role in the realization of the cosmic harmony. So let's call that from which all things issue, Mother. Let's return to the despised, forgotten and neglected, and take that as our model. Thus does Laozi introduce Yin, and with it, the ironic Dao.

"Know the masculine by keeping to the feminine, and you will be the ravine of the world." (28; Ziporyn) Know and engage with apparent reality with all its things by becoming empty, forgotten and lowly just like that from which all things emerge, and all things will flow through you. ("Having known the mother, use it to know the sons; having known the sons, return and hold fast to the Mother." (52)) "Know the bright by keeping to the dark, and you will be a model for the world." (28) Modeling Dao, doing nothing, nothing will be left undone as the world models you.

"Being a model for the world, the power of sustainability will not go awry, and you will return to the ultimate point of not being manifestly present and apprehensible." ("The Consummate Person has no fixed identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the Sage has no name." (Zhuangzi 1:8; Ziporyn)) "Know the honored by keeping to the disgraced, and you will be the valley of the world. Being the valley of the world, the power of sustainability will be whole, and you will return to the unhewn state." (28; Ziporyn) The "unhewn" — the whole before we cut ourselves and all things from it — the whole that 'is', but is incomprehensible since comprehension is that very same cutting up.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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