Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Theoretical Sages II

Scott Bradley

If to be fully and practically committed to the aspiration of being 'genuinely human' is, in fact, to be genuinely human, it might be said that it matters little how one goes about the endeavor. Such a proposition cannot sit well with most schools, of course. And I do not propose it. Surely some understandings and methods are more effective than others, if not in facilitating an arrival at a fixed idea of sagacity, then at least in facilitating the sagacious journey. Which one(s) we choose to follow or, in any case, allow to guide us, is (are), however, a matter of personal temperament and, most likely, the vagaries of fate.

I am far from convinced that the proto-Taoists Zhuangzi and Laozi meditated in any formal sense. Admittedly, there are allusions to meditative technique, mostly with regard to breathing exercises, but if this was indeed their 'method' for achieving sagehood, it seems clear they would have had a great deal more to say on the subject. This is the case with those whom we know to follow this method, since they often speak of little else.

I suspect they followed a method common to nearly all the indigenous Chinese philosophies. I have never read, as best as I can remember, a concise articulation of this method. I am going to try and make a tentative stab at that here. Let's call it self-cultivation. This method might be described as three methods in one. These are understanding, imagining and responding.

In reality we 'begin' nowhere, since these three are a mutually informing, organic whole, but for the sake of presentation I will say we begin with an understanding of the nature of reality. We understand that "Heaven and Earth and I are one body", for example. This is a statement of the unity of all things. We move this from the purely intellectual and theoretical by imagining what it means in and for us at this very moment. We imagine being this. And this can lead to profound experiences of a mystical nature. It is experientially confirmed in us.

Finally, we practice this imagined and experienced understanding in our responses to all that we encounter in the world. Should we meet with confrontation, for example, we respond out of our awareness of unity; that which confronts me, is me; hidden in the whole, there is nothing to defend, nothing to lose.

Because this is self-cultivation, though the practitioner may believe his understanding of the nature of reality to be 'correct', it does not truly matter in fact. The result is the same, whether the understanding is correct or not. This is because the process is an altogether human one. Heaven does not reward our correct understanding or efforts with gracious gifts of insight or bolts of spiritual lightening. For all practical purposes there is no Tao beyond that expressed in the human endeavor.

This is the path seems to me to be the most natural and it is the one I follow.

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


  1. Your various ramblings here and there are converging and condensing really nicely at the moment

  2. Scott i have been followin ur writings for sometime now...and its been great to read ur stuff...especially these last 3 - 4 posts


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