Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XIV: We Are the Same

Scott Bradley

So far we have been looking at the self/other pairing as seen in the individual self as I/me. But though Ziqi's loss of "me" begins there, it does not stop there. This gives him a sense of the fact that everyone else is just like him; he realizes that his internal self/other pairing is projected onto the world so that his self is paired with everyone else as other. Thus, he identifies himself as one among the myriad of sounds of the forest stirred by the wind.

"Without self there is no other, without other there is no self", Zhuangzi tells us. Could the I/me exist without some other? Perhaps not, but since there 'are' others, how are we to relate to them? Since everyone experiences his internal self/other as an external projection of one's self in contrast to others, we come to recognize that we are the same. You have your self and other; I have my self and other. But since your self is my other and my self is your other, is there any self or other? Are they not really just the same? These are Zhuangzi's questions, and he assumes we will reach the same conclusion as he, that, if we can transcend our own subjectivity, we will realize that they are the same, and this enables a paradigm shift of enormous implications. Suddenly, everything "basks in the full daylight of heaven". Suddenly, all distinctions and boundaries fall away.

This is really not all that unlike Confucius' "single thread" that runs through his entire philosophy, namely the ability to "liken-[others]-unto-oneself" (shu) that led to his version of the "golden rule": "Do not do to others what you would not want done to you". For Confucius this is an ethical consideration, the foundation for which is unclear, despite its undeniable appeal. Zhuangzi's use is quite different, however, though I am having difficulty finding an appropriate label. Perhaps it is ontological, the way things manifest as self-other. Or perhaps it is epistemological, the way our knowing is perspectivally derived and thus undermined by the equally valid perspectives of others. In any event, he, too, suggests we come to realize that others are like ourselves and thereby realize a wider view that transcends our own subjectivity (even if experienced within that subjectivity).

The point is, if we can realize how that we are all the same, we can free ourselves from the narrow "separating pens" of our own subjectivity so as to freely wander among all subjectivities which, in this context, Zhuangzi calls "following along with the present 'this' (subjectivity)".

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

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