Saturday, June 8, 2013

Equalizing Things XIII: Oneness in Equality

Scott Bradley

Zhuangzi has suggested that if we wish to categorize things, we will in the end discover that we are in a single category which we share with all other things. This leads him to conclude with three seeming paradoxes, the first of which is: "Nothing in the world is larger than the tip of an autumn hair, and Mt Tai is small." (2:23; Ziporyn)

At first glance, this appears to be about the relativity of relatives; if something is large relative to something else, then it is also small relative to something else; is there then anything small or large? But I think Zhuangzi had something else in mind. He earlier told us that "all things are one horse." If this is the case, all things are also one tip of an autumn hair. How could anything be larger? If this is a mind-game, perhaps it is one designed to shake us lose from whatever mind-game we are currently playing, but of which we are as yet unaware.

The second 'paradox' is: "No one lives longer than a dead child, and old Pengzu died an early death." A dead child has just gotten there first. I prefer another rendering: "a still-born child". It beat us all. But it didn't beat the rock. How are we different from a rock? In so, so many wonderful ways. Yes. But please put my ashes under one that it might have the last word. But this is about life; every life, however short, is equal to every other life, however long. Released from all clinging, what difference does long life or short make? If life and death are equal, what difference does the duration of life make?

The third 'paradox' is: "Heaven and earth are born together with me, and the ten thousand things and I are one." We are all together in one category: Reality. Zhuangzi is not interested in making a metaphysical statement here: "We are One." He has not departed from his mission to demonstrate the equality of all things so as to enable us to release into that equality. This oneness in equality does not seek to erode the sense of the discrete integrity of each thing. The realization of Dao is the attainment of an awareness; it's about how we are in the world, not about what the world is or is not. If oneness helps to lead to that end, then let us speak of oneness. But, as we shall see, oneness is that which cannot be spoken (except, perhaps, by rocks).

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

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