Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XIII: The Equalization That Liberates

Scott Bradley


"[T]he primary idea of a whole is of a correlative pair, which Zhuangzi pares down to its purest and most abstract form: This and That, or Self and Not-self." This, as Ziporyn points out (Ironies of Oneness and Difference), is the central theme of the Qiwulun chapter of the Zhuangzi (the second of the Inner Chapters) which he renders: "Equalizing Assessments of Things", and I take to mean "Equalizing our Opinions about What This Mess Is All About". His goal is to demonstrate that our opinions are a consequence of our individual perspectives, and thus perspectivally relative, on the one hand, and to thereby give us a cognitive tool by which to free ourselves from clinging to our own opinions as if to 'truth', on the other. When thoroughly realized, he believes, this awareness frees us from every dependence. Everything is in effect equalized, and this is the experience of psychological Dao.

Zhuangzi is by no means unique in his use of reason to demonstrate the limits of reason; his friend Huizi did the same, and Zhuangzi probably learned it from him. What is unique in Zhuangzi is that he sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with the life-process itself, rather than as merely an occasion for intellectual skepticism.

We previously saw in Ziqi's declaration, "I have lost me", that the self is precisely this, a self-other pairing wherein one objectifies oneself. To lose the objectified "me", however momentarily or partially, is to suddenly lose the boundary which separates one from everything else; one experiences "oneness"; all things are "equalized". The experience is a psychological one, and not intended to declare that "all is One", however 'true' that may be.

Thus, Ziqi is suddenly able to recognize all the noises that humans make, all their opinions, as metaphorically equivalent to the sounds created by the wind blowing through the forest. Recognizing the subjectivity of each, including himself, he is able to realize a more objective view, the view from Dao.

So, yes, all our blabbering is "no different from the twittering of baby birds". Far from being simply dismissive of the human expression, however, this realization can be incredibly liberating. But before it can be so, something has to give within us, something has to break, something has to be "lost"; and that, of course, is "me".

With the loss of “me” comes the freedom to wander; for “I” remain, though now without the need to fixedly cling to anything: to be ‘right’ or to establish myself in contrast to others.

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

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