Friday, February 24, 2012

Flux I

Scott Bradley

Heraclitus (c. 470 BCE) proclaimed that all that apparently "is" is in flux. "You cannot step into the same river twice." Reality is never a fixed 'thing' nor is it composed of fixed things; it is ceaseless transformation and all things are participants in this transformation.

This is essentially the Taoist view of Reality. Things are not static, fixed entities; they are endless series of events. Every moment of the human experience is likewise an event. We are not fixed entities, but this same unfolding of events.

One does not respond to things as one thing in opposition to other things, but as a fellow participant in the Great Transformation. We are not fixed entities responding to events, but events responding to events. We ‘event’ together. This is why and how the sage "follows along with the present 'this'". It is what Guo Xiang means when he suggests we "vanish into things". Our vanishing is into the flow of ceaseless Transformation. Our unity is not that we are made of the same stuff, but that we are together one Transformation.

Heraclitus was called "the Dark One". The Greek (Western) mind prefers that things be things. This should not surprise us in as much as the self likewise wishes itself to be a fixed entity; in possession of an immortal soul, our personal continuity is assured. The Taoist project is to let this go, to affirm and enter the flow, to be one with Transformation which recognizes no continuity of identity, not even for a moment.

Taoism is not much concerned with the 'what' of things; it does not require to know what Reality is. It is more concerned to know how best to respond to things which enter the field of human experience. And this is expressed as "going along with things" as a fellow participant in Transformation; no 'thing' is opposed, because there is no 'one' to oppose it; not opposing, we are not opposed. "It is because he (the sage) does not contend with the myriad things that none are able to contend with him." (Daodejing 66; Huainanzi 1) This is why the tiger can find no place in the sage to sink its teeth.

But the tiger can most certainly sink its teeth into the sage, one might protest. Yes, it can. And things are also things. This is how we do science. But what the tiger and things cannot do is take from the sage his participation in that which transcends mere existence, namely the All-Embracing Flow. The tiger can take the life of the sage, but when did the sage ever possess a life to lose?

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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