Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi III: Being What Happens Is Non-Dependence

Scott Bradley


This might be a good time to clarify that, despite the title of this post and those preceding and following, my invocation of Ziporyn’s name is not intended to imply that what I say here is a faithful representation of his views. Much of what I say, however, is an affirmative response to what I understand his take on Zhuangzi to be, and thus I continue (for convenience) to use his name, even when I do not make explicit reference to his words (in Ironies of Oneness and Difference).

I began this series with the observation that the most important aspects of Zhuangzi's philosophy — transformation, dependence and perspectival relativism — can be seen in his opening fable of the flight of Peng. This, I think, is instructive in itself. As revolutionary as his ideas might be, they are at root, really quite simple.

The vast bird Peng is herself representative of transformation; she arose from the vast fish Kun, and since Kun means "fish roe", the suggestion is that even this origin as a fish is really just from the transformative potentiality of not-yet-quite-a-fish. All is transformation. Peng flies from one Oblivion to another which, it turns out, is really just one Oblivion after all (the text identifying both destinations as "The Pool of Heaven"). This is the flight of existence of which we all partake. However, Peng, we might assume, is aware of herself as transformation, and this is the critical importance of our understanding that all is transformation — so are we. This helps to loosen our white-knuckled grip on being a "fixed-identity", and frees us to "wander".

To experience oneself as transformation is also to experience complete non-dependence relative to anything fixed. What is there to "lose" when all things are ceaselessly changing, including ourselves? Being transformation, what do we require? One rendering of a thought of Guo Xiang (252-312), the final editor of (unless one includes A.C. Graham!) and first extant commentator on the Zhuangzi, is: "Do what happens". This speaks to spontaneity, but might just as easily be rendered: "Be what happens." Being what happens is being transformation.

Being what happens is, in effect, depending on everything; but depending on everything implies depending on no one thing which is what Zhuangzi sees as the liberating experience of non-dependence on anything fixed. All that’s left is to enjoy, wander and play.

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

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