Wednesday, May 15, 2013

On Being Momentary I

Scott Bradley

Sometimes you just need to wade in, even though you know that you will immediately be in over your head. This will certainly be the case here. But then, when am I ever not in over my head? Is there anyone who is not? Might not the greatest error be in thinking that it could be otherwise?

I am always bouncing off of Buddhism here; this need not be confrontational; in contrast we learn. (And in having learned through contrast we learn not to cling to either side of the matter.) Would I be mistaken if I suggested that Buddhism denigrates the transient and momentary? Things are empty of "self-being"; they are contingent, caused, derived, empty. When taken ontologically, Zhuangzi might ask, So what? But for Buddhism this is a problem; we have to see through the made-up world and discover the . . . the what? I don't know. The "real"? My point is that there is a bias toward Being; but this is the opposite of what is said, so let's call it Non-Being. But this is really just more of the same, so let's call it Beyond Being and Non-Being. How about the Void? Yet how is this trajectory still not just more of the same? How is this not a bias away from the world in which we live? How is this not an escapist salvation from this experience of being momentary?

Philosophical Daoism basically agrees with the Buddhist assessment of things as essentially void. Nothing lasts. Nothing is forever. Things arise; things perish. Only Daoism does not turn this into a pursuit of a True and Constant beyond the Transient. Unmoved Movers (even Empty ones) leave Daoism unmoved. Rather, Daoism embraces the transitory and momentary; things are this way, because this is the way of things. And the way things are is the way they are 'supposed' to be. All is well. To the extent that we can speak of a hypothetical Source, "It" is this Transforming, not a reality making it happen.

Before I drown, let me say that I know that Buddhism can easily refute my complaint. All that I would maintain is that the word trajectory best sums up my point, not the nuances of speculative ontology and cosmology.

But perhaps more importantly, I also realize that a strong case could be made for a pursuit of the "Real" in Daoism. (The problem when speaking of "Daoism", however, is in trying to figure out where it begins and where in ends, which is to say, what it is.) The Daodejing certainly opens itself to the possibility of speculation with respect to Non-Being. Neo-Daoism made much of this. Religious Daoism seems to have embraced Being — how else does one become immortal? Zhuangzi speaks of a Creator of Things; but then Zhuangzi made light of words and did not intend that they should be taken literally. (Such freedom!) In any case, my personal use of Daoism is more than willing to make it what I would have it be, and I call this Philosophical or Proto-Daoism.

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

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