Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ziporyn on the Liji X: More on "The Tao of Self-Guidance"

Scott Bradley

The Dao is self-guidance.
~ The Doctrine of the Mean ~
Let us rip this simple statement out of this and every other context. What is Dao? Self-guidance. I can't think of a more radical understanding of Dao. It is in no way "something out there". It has nothing to do with the ground or Source of Being. It is the purely subjective exploration of one's own inner experience. It is Dao as the development of a personal, individual dao. It doesn't even have anything to do with following a set of principles formulated by others. Oops! there goes Daoism. But if Daoism does not self-negate, it is not Daoism.

It has been pointed out that Zhuangzi was very much an individualist and in a very real sense the father of individualism in ancient China, if only by virtue of the breadth of the influence of his writing. Most every other philosophy, even when advocating self-cultivation, had as its larger motivation the ordering of society. We work on ourselves so as to create the harmony of the Empire. Just like Maoism.

Zhuangzi, on the other hand, suggested a path of personal liberation that might or might not lead to greater societal harmony — the question is moot. We can, like Zhuangzi himself, explore the possibility of more general beneficial outcomes, but to do so comes close to believing that such justifications and defenses are required. They are not. This radical individualism is not contingent on demonstrating its benefits to society. Were it to do so, it would cease to be "self-guidance". (Yet, how could it not benefit society?)

Philosophical Daoism says: Think for yourself. Engage in the experience of being yourself that only you yourself experience. This involves trust. One must trust oneself. Yet there is nothing we do or are that does not involve trust; so why not trust oneself? Ultimately, "depending on nothing", Zhuangzi's release into free and easy wandering, is entrusting oneself to . . . nothing in particular. It is saying Yes in openness to a vast Openness, unspecified and unspecifiable. It is trust in Reality, which is to say, in everything.

As with most things Zhuangzian, this individualism cuts against the grain of our engrained inclinations. There are inevitable moral objections; doesn't this feed into such destructive behaviors as unbridled selfish capitalism? I don't know; let’s ask an unbridled selfish capitalist if he is a philosophical Daoist who has released himself into the vastness where nothing can be lost. I suspect not. His is not Zhuangzi’s individualism, but its opposite — addiction to things.

Again, this Dao is about trusting yourself since Dao is self-guidance. It is not about applying it as some universal principle to impose upon the world. It's all about you.

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

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