Sunday, December 15, 2013

Another Look at the Laozi XVIII

Scott Bradley

In this last look at the Laozi (in this series), we return to the opening chapter in which the basic 'metaphysics' of philosophical Daoism (an 'ironic' metaphysics) is established. It is simple enough: We have an inescapable sense of there being a Source, a 'something' (that is also necessarily a nothing), a 'place' (which is also necessarily a no-place), from which all things arise and to which they return. This sense may be thought to be somehow "intuitively" perceived, but for the purposes of philosophical Daoism, nothing of the sort is actually required; it is, in fact, the most fundamentally apparent empirical fact of our experience. It is, in Zhuangzian terms, an Illumination of the Obvious.

It is important to understand at this point that we cannot and need not go any further in terms of speculation about the nature of the Ultimate (if there is one). Let us stop here and let that sink in: philosophical Daoism does not tell us anything about this life-world experience that is not immediately obvious. What it does do is suggest an appropriate response, one that takes this essentially mysterious (unknowable) character of our existence into account in such a way as to facilitate a way to flourish within it.

Again, this is simple enough: We need only include and prioritize mystery as informing our experience; this is the "sustainable whole". Existence alone is clearly not sustainable. But doing this requires our giving up everything we take as fixed and sure. It means forgetting all attempts at 'absolutism' — all 'answers' that explain what this world is about and all belief in the sanctity of this experience called 'me'. It means living in a world without moorings. This is, as Zhuangzi puts it, realizing "The Radiance of drift and doubt". That it is a radiance is the crux of the matter. When we cling to our sense of being a fixed identity (and fear its loss), it is not a radiance, but rather a dark despair.

Truly allowing Mystery to inform our living necessarily transforms our way of being in the world; it leads to behavioral changes as well as psychological ones. Dogmatism, exclusivism, the need to dominate, fall away. Openness, inclusiveness, thankfulness arise. These are words descriptive of my inklings (and to which I aspire, lest it seem I am laying claim to having realized them) — the adventure is for each one who wishes to take this path to discover for her- or himself what that "radiance" reveals.

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

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