Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Equalizing Things II: Ziqi Spaces Out

Scott Bradley

The second of the Inner Chapters begins with Yan discovering his master, Ziqi, so spaced out that he wonders that it is even possible for someone's body and mind to be so still as to be like dried wood and dead ashes. This peculiar description of a positive spiritual attainment reappears elsewhere in the Zhuangzi and later Daoist literature. Personally, I don't find it all that appealing, but the explanation of the reason for this appearance does have its appeal. Ziqi seems "all in a scatter, as if loosed from a partner" (Ziporyn). It is not that there is no longer anyone there, but that that someone has somehow been released from "a partner" that binds him and disallows his being scattered everywhere. What partner? Ziqi doesn't equivocate and declares, "I have lost me."

Before we consider what this means, it might be helpful to remember the direction in which this story and the chapter generally are moving us. This is about realizing Dao as that which embraces all things without judging them; it's about experiencing the "vast openness" that this Dao implies. Does Ziqi lose his 'me' and then realize this Dao, or does he realize this Dao and thus lose his 'me'? Or, perhaps more to the point, is this anything more than just another fantastic story with no connection to experienced reality, a mere vehicle to point us toward a hypothetical possibility from which benefits accrue even if only through approximation?

Many commentators seize upon this passage and others like it as proof of a yogic tradition and an active pursuit of 'enlightenment'. Isn't this how we typically want these things to be; some kind of sure method, a convenient box into which to put Zhuangzi, an answer? Even though there are among us today those who similarly declare themselves to have lost their 'me', inveterate approximator that I am, I am personally inclined to forego such an 'ultimate' goal and to just have fun with the process. Though being "all in a scatter" has its appeal, getting "all strung out" trying to achieve it, does not.

So, what does it mean that Ziqi has lost his 'me"? Like most commentators, I can only guess; at best we can only consider it intellectually. But how else would have Zhuangzi expected us to do so, given that we are unlikely to have already realized it? In any case, our present consideration will have to wait for the next post.

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

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