Friday, January 3, 2014

Ziporyn on the Liji IV: Still More on Cheng

Scott Bradley

The Dao of Heaven is to be cheng; the Dao of man is to become cheng.
(Mencius, A412)
There are instances when Zhuangzi tells us what the ultimate benefits of following his suggested path are, and if we were hoping for Nirvana, or some other brand of 'salvation' or eternal reward, then we would be sorely disappointed. No, the only suggested benefit to facing squarely our human experience and transcending it in acceptance is to fulfill our allotted years. This implies a great deal more than life span, however; it is a qualitative fulfillment as well as a quantitative one. And this fulfillment is, I would suggest, cheng.

Cheng, as we saw previously, is both the highest value and the means to realizing that value. To be fully who we are, to be authentic, is the goal, and the means to achieving it is authenticity. To be fully integrated into our context, both internal and external, is to do the work of integrating. To realize sincerity, realness, is to practice sincerity. To be honest is to practice honesty. Thus, one is cheng not so much in arriving at 'absolute' cheng, but in practicing cheng in the pursuit of cheng. It may be that 'absolute' cheng is unrealizable, but that is of no great consequence, since the essence of cheng is honesty, and honesty can be realized even as an admission of our dishonesty.

As suggested at the close of the previous post, though “becoming cheng” is the fulfillment of one’s potential, this is not intended, at least in the Zhuangzian vision, to imply that there is some preexistent “true nature” to be realized. The only ‘nature’ there is is the one that we actually are, and that is always in the process of becoming, or as Zhuangzi would say, is always part of the endless transformation of things. This is reflected in the existentialist formula that “existence precedes essence”; there is no ideal essential self, no ‘true self’, to be realized, but only the self that we are at any point in time. In this, philosophical Daoism takes an entirely different path than Buddhism where we are invited to realize our “buddha nature”, the implication of which being that not only is there an essential self, but one that is somehow integral to the ultimate nature of Reality. (I realize, of course, that there are many possible rebuttals to this statement, that the ‘buddha nature’ is no-self for instance, but in the end I do not think that any sleight of mind can escape the fundamentally idealistic character of Buddhism — it knows the answer even if it cannot articulate what that answer ultimately is.)

The question arises, as it always does, whether this really matters in any practical sense. I think it does. Zhuangzi’s Consummate Person “wanders” precisely because she has no fixed destination. She has surrendered into the ever-transforming, and this involves no neatly packaged assurances about the way things really are or in which direction they are headed. All there is is this present following along with whatever Happens. Ideal goals, as Zen readily admits, are antithetical to true liberation.

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