Friday, February 14, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi I: Three Gates to Inner Freedom

Scott Bradley


I left Ziporyn's treatment of Zhuangzi (in Ironies of Oneness and Difference) for last originally because, following on his discussion of Laozi, I thought my responses would be too repetitive. That no doubt would have been and remains the case, but there is also a reluctance now to attempt to encapsulate here what are some rather complex and difficult ideas, which I do not myself always thoroughly understand. The reader will know that that hasn't stopped before, nor shall it now.

Ziporyn identifies three interwoven themes in the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi: transformation, dependence, and the limits of perspectival knowledge. All three of these are seen in the fantastic opening story of the flight of the vast bird Peng from the Northern to the Southern Sea. And all three can, I think, be effective gates providing access to his larger vision of inner freedom.

Of these three, my preferred 'gate' is that of non-dependence, although each of the three supports the other two. The favorite of 'philosophers' would seem to be Zhuangzi's perspectival relativism, something they can get their analytical teeth into, and upon which they can opine without getting all fuzzy and mystical.

Transformation is understood as never-ceasing (in the experienced world) and thus as an invitation to let go of any pretense of being fixed. This points to the advantages of having no-fixed-identity.

Non-dependence follows on this in that to depend on something is to fix oneself in relation to something else. This is an ironic non-dependence, however, since it is really to depend on everything in the sense of riding atop whatever happens. The non-dependence consists in depending on nothing in particular; joining the flow of ceaseless-transformation, one depends on whatever happens, occupying the moment and releasing the past.

Perspectival relativism demonstrates that no one paradigm can be depended on to provide a fixed truth whereby to fix oneself. Like non-dependence that depends on everything, so the understanding of the subjective nature of 'truth' allows one to "equalize" and accept the various paradigms as one would the various sounds coming from a storm-tossed forest.

We will be exploring these more deeply in the posts to follow.

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

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