Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi VI: Breaking Out of the Pen

Scott Bradley

Seeing Peng flying incredibly high above, the fledgling dove scoffs and laughs, "Where does he think he's going?" "The same place you're going," Peng might reply. The only real difference between them is that Peng has fully taken onboard an understanding of the nature of apparent reality as transformation and his origin in and return to Oblivion, The Pool of Heaven, so that his flight is made in freedom from dependence on the need to accomplish anything or to be anything in particular. Oblivion awaits no matter how Peng or anything else makes the flight of existence. The dove, on the other hand, is locked into his narrow point of view and sees making it from one bush or tree as a matter of great importance, which of course, also makes him of great importance.

Following on this, Zhuangzi refers to his contemporary philosopher, Song Rongzi (Song Xing, Sung Hsing), who would, in his turn, laugh at the dove and those who, like the dove, strive for a 'name'. For Song has realized that one's value need not depend on anything external, principally the opinion of others as won through 'accomplishments', but rather internally through one's own integrity. Yet Zhuangzi, in his turn, laughs at Song; for why should we depend on anything? It is enough that we exist. There are no conditions that need to be met. Or is there some lack in vastness, some flaw in the Totality?

Song Rongzi saw the narrowness of a dependence on things external, even if one were to be the head of "some one village" or even a country. This, according to Graham (Disputers of the Tao, p. 96), he described as living in a "separating pen" (pie yu). The way to change the world is by "changing the inner man by becoming aware of restricted viewpoints . . . the freeing of self-respect from the judgment of others." To this, Zhuangzi gives a qualified nod; for Song has indeed seen something of both non-dependence and its relation to breaking out of the "pen" of our own point of view, our own opinion about life and things. For this failure to recognize the constraining nature of any one interpretation of the world, is itself a form of dependence. And this is why Zhuangzi goes on at great length to demonstrate the relative character of our individual perspectives, to help us break free from the separating pen of our own mind.

The world is a pen in which we are obliged to dwell; let us not fool ourselves into believing we have somehow freed ourselves from having a narrow perspective, even when we have broken free of our belief the one we hold is the 'right' one. It is not that we break free of every pen, but only that we realize that we are always in one. It is this realization through which "our wandering can never be brought to a halt". We wander in non-dependence even in dependence on a point of view, just as Peng flew free though utterly dependent on the seasonal monsoon wind.

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

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