Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shenzi XIII

Scott Bradley

What they [Shenzi and friends] called the Dao was not really the Dao, so even what was right in their words could not but turn out wrong. [They] did not really know the Dao. But they had all heard of its general overall character.
(Zhuangzi 33; Ziporyn)
Then there really is a Dao?

We close this series on Shenzi with a critique of his critic. In his introductory remarks he tells us that there is (or was) "an ancient Art of the Dao" now largely lost and expressed only partially in the numerous philosophies of the era. These are all the efforts of "nook and cranny scholars". Yet had he opened himself a bit more to the teaching of Shenzi, then he would have understood how that every philosophy can only of necessity be an expression of but a "corner" of the Dao. "When any one thing is taught, something else is blocked out." Thus, his "ancient Art of the Dao" can only stand together with all these other philosophies in their partiality.

But the author's Dao is the 'true' Dao. There is really only one Dao, and it is apparently quite knowable since all other daos can be judged by it. Since it is an "art" we can assume it does not refer to any metaphysical reality, though ultimately, any dao that is declared 'true' must of necessity in some way tap into something 'true' of Reality.

Confucius does not venture to speculate on the ultimate nature of reality, but he does assume that it has moral force; we know how best to live (morally) because Nature shows us how; we harmonize with (moral) Nature. This author, whom I take to have a strong Confucian bias, similarly believes there to be a single 'true' Dao.

Also like Confucius, he must look to the past in identifying this Dao, for he certainly won't find it in his present. Nor shall we. Nor shall anyone in whatever era. In the end, this belief in an idealized past is a form of delusional dishonesty, an escape from the ambiguities of the existential present.

(It might be argued that Zhuangzi similarly believed in such a past since he makes repeated reference to it. However, I think it can be easily shown that his use was rhetorical, a useful device for making a point, and that his philosophy certainly did not depend on there having been such an ideal time. Laozi, on the other hand, does seem to require that there was such a time, as do some of the authors of the Zhuangzi, especially those of the "Anarchist School".)

Is there a 'true' Dao? From a Zhuangzian point of view, I think not. There are only many daos. But because there can only be many daos, Zhuangzi suggests a dao that recognizes and affirms these many daos and this dao is his Dao. We might call it Dao since it is an attempt at all-inclusiveness, but for it to be true to itself it must also acknowledge itself as but another dao. Thus, if we call it Dao then we must also say that it is also not Dao; Dao that is a dao is not Dao, and there are only daos.

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

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