Saturday, July 27, 2013

Finding the Empty Room V: It's All In You

Scott Bradley

Concentrate on the hollows of what is before you, and the empty chamber within you will generate its own brightness.
(Zhuangzi 4:11; Ziporyn)
I never tire of emphasizing how that Zhuangzi's philosophy never suggests that his mystical vision depends in any way on somehow tapping into a metaphysical Dao. This is not about finding God or being united to ultimate Truth, but about discovering the human potential for psychological freedom. I am of the opinion that every religious experience is nothing more than this whatever claims are otherwise made, but also understand how this belief is important primarily due to my own personal experience; I am not interested in pursuing religious belief; nor need I condemn it. Fortunately, we do not have to get it right to get it; or so I believe.

Experiencing one's core emptiness is sufficient in itself to give one an experience of transcendent "brightness". Elsewhere we are told that "the radiance of drift and doubt are the sage's only map." Drift and doubt are the source of and the occasion for this radiance; a perplexing proposition, is it not?

We might puzzle over how our core emptiness can be the source of our freedom when we live in an age on the downhill slope of a crisis of faith that has led us to coin such terms as 'existential despair' and angst. Was it not a renewed awareness of just this emptiness in the wake of the death of "God" that precipitated this crisis? It was. The essential difference between the despair of existentialism and what we might anachronistically call Zhuangzi's existentialism is that, unlike the modern version, he does not require that the world make "sense". Despair arises from hope. Hope in what? Hope that there is some definitive 'map', some logical explanation that will give 'meaning' and 'purpose' to life. Zhuangzi suggests that we simply return to the experience of life itself, an experience which requires no justification or reason to be.

Thus, this emptiness that we are can be either an occasion for transcendent joy or for despair. That it tends toward the latter is a consequence of our having tried to "add something to the process of life". We have become self-aware, and in being so have sought to make of that 'self' something it is not. We need not think of this as some fall from grace, some sundering of the divine plan, but as simply the way things have emerged. That we might be inclined to call self-consciousness a cruel joke makes no more sense than to call nature cruel; it is simply the way it is.

The Zhuangzian vision is not a redemptive one. Though our happiness may be contingent upon the nature of our engagement with life, ultimately the wellness of Reality depends on nothing.

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

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