Friday, November 1, 2013

Shenzi V

Scott Bradley

They began by equalizing all things . . .
(Zhuangzi 33; Ziporyn)
This is as good a place to start as any other, I suppose. Indeed, though it sounds like but the first step of many, if actualized, wouldn't it obviate the need for any other? There are many ways to verbally frame the view from Dao, but that view, once realized, realizes them all.

Equalizing all things is an activity with which we are familiar from Zhuangzi, and if Shenzi did indeed write before him, then it is quite possible that Zhuangzi was in some sense indebted to him, as he was to many others. But then, we only have the author of the Tianxia chapter's interpretive word for it — it is he who tells us that Shenzi and friends began by equalizing things. Here, and elsewhere, the author makes an interpretive assertion about Shenzi and then provides a quote intended to demonstrate that assessment that, to my thinking at least, fails to unambiguously support the interpretation. It may very well be that he is anachronistically interpreting Shenzi in the light of later philosophizing, namely that of Zhuangzi. Still, Shenzi and friends seem to have been working on the same approach to inner freedom as Zhuangzi.

Did Shenzi then manage to equalize all things? Did Zhuangzi? If all things are already equal, why would they require equalizing, and if not, how could they be made so? But they are not equal, or at least we need not assert their equality, for the equalizing of things is a psychological activity, not a metaphysical assertion. Thus, if Shenzi and Zhuangzi did manage to equalize all things, then they did so in terms of their own awareness, their own interface with life. The equalization of all things is a 'state' of mind.

We can say that these two began by intellectually equalizing things as a matter of a first step toward realizing it in their conscious experience. Zhuangzi, in the Qiwulun chapter (2), makes a reasoned case for the equalization of our opinions about things. All our judgments are born of our individual perspectives. We think a woman particularly beautiful, but deer flee from her as if from a monster. The view from Dao appreciates that though we must necessarily have a particular perspective we need not cling to it as if to 'truth'. We can appreciate that every perspective is an expression of Dao, even as every sound the forest and crannies make in response to the wind is of equal value.

But this is not the equalization of all things. Though "saying so, makes it so", as Zhuangzi tells us, it remains only intellectually so. The point is to make it so in our actual conscious experience. That is equalizing all things.

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

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