Monday, August 13, 2012

Human Nature III

Scott Bradley

The Tao is the way things are,
which you can't depart from
even for one instant.
If you could depart from it,
it wouldn't be the Tao.

~ Chung Yung (Stephen Mitchell adaptation) ~
If you have been reading these posts for any time, you will understand why I have chosen to share this passage. All that you are is Dao; all that you do is Dao; there is no space between you and it. Why do we find this so intellectually challenging? Because we are bound by right and wrong. Why do we find it so difficult to realize in our experience? I'm not sure.

Here's another way to come at it. What is "human nature"? Whatever you are and whatever you do; whatever humans do is human nature. Mitchell, like Zenkei who could not allow that the "ordinary mind is Dao", but insisted that there must be a "true ordinary mind" or an "original ordinary mind", balks at this. In his notes, commenting on "Tao is the way thing are", he says, "Minus our thoughts about the way things are." So there is something that is not Dao? "If you could depart from it, it wouldn't be Dao." Human nature is not some ideal residing in Heaven; it is precisely human beings as they are, which is to say, a mess. To the extent that humans are a mess, Dao is a mess. But then, "mess' is a subjective, human judgment; are warring ants a mess?

The problem is that we confuse the potential (harmony) and the actual (disharmony) with acceptability and the unacceptability. All things are acceptable. Praying mantises eat their prey alive; human beings live in disharmony with what is; this disharmonious ‘what is’, is acceptable. In the case of the human, however, there is a potential for harmony, but one does not become more of Dao because one is more harmonious.

Mitchell seems to agree: "Human nature doesn't need to be fulfilled, nor do we need to cultivate what is already perfect. Once we recognize this, we return to the origin of things. There is never a movement toward or away. We remain where we have always been, but now we know it, as if for the first time." (The Second Book of the Tao) But unfortunately, this "already perfect" human nature is not the human nature we actually are in the real world; it is some idealistic concept of how we should be, how we already are in some yet to be realized metaphysical sense. However, the cultivation of human nature as it is, though seemingly a negation of the perfection of what is, is simply the exercise of our perfect humanity. Why perfect? Because, like the mantis, it is — delusional thoughts notwithstanding. We can cultivate what is already perfect; realizing that perfection is that cultivation.

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

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