Friday, February 28, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XV: The Wild Card Mind

Scott Bradley

Seeing that my self is your other, and your self is my other, Zhuangzi asks if there is really any self or other at all. If not, then there is a kind oneness that emerges from the merging of the one into the other. "It is only someone who really gets through them that can see how the two sides open into each other to form a oneness." (2:23; Ziporyn) It is easy enough to understand this in theory, but to really "get through them" is another thing altogether; it must be a transformative experience like that of Ziqi who consequentially loses his "me". Since self/other leads to "this/that", the fundamental distinction of thought, to transcend it is already to go where words cannot go; the transcendence of self/other cannot be imagined. (Though trying to imagine it might be a way of approximating it.)

To experience this — or at least to begin to approximate it however imperfectly — leads to a unique psychological paradigm shift which, though Zhuangzi seems much more interested in one's inner experience, also works itself out in behavioral changes in the world. "It is just a matter of going along with the present 'this'. To do this without knowing it, and not because you have defined it as right, is called 'the Course' [Dao]". (2:23) It is having an open, untethered mind.

This is the heart of the reasoned side of Zhuangzi's project of showing a way to freedom from the "separating pen" of one's own narrow subjectivity. Ziporyn calls it the "wild card mind" and, I think I can safely say, sees it as the defining concept of Zhuangzi's way. His elucidation of having such a mind is quite elaborate, and I won't attempt to reproduce it here, but will sketch the broad parameters.

Imagine you are playing a card game (the basics of which is to pick up and discard cards) in which you do not know the rules (as in life) though you keep picking up cards that provide you with contradictory rules. One card tells you to keep high cards; another says keep low cards, etc. For the wild card mind this poses no problem, for it has no commitment to any one kind of card or set of rules, but is by its nature able to transform along with whatever the current situation requires. Now an ace, now a deuce; "now a horse, now an ox".

The wild card mind is thus typified by infinite flexibility by virtue of being unfixed from any one point of view. It is like taking a walk in the woods, appreciating the full gamut of sounds and sights as all equally expressions of the Great Happening. Or, as I like to say, it is the ability to appreciate humanity and its expressions as we might the competing interests of various species of ants, appreciating them all, committing to none.

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

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XIV: We Are the Same

Scott Bradley

So far we have been looking at the self/other pairing as seen in the individual self as I/me. But though Ziqi's loss of "me" begins there, it does not stop there. This gives him a sense of the fact that everyone else is just like him; he realizes that his internal self/other pairing is projected onto the world so that his self is paired with everyone else as other. Thus, he identifies himself as one among the myriad of sounds of the forest stirred by the wind.

"Without self there is no other, without other there is no self", Zhuangzi tells us. Could the I/me exist without some other? Perhaps not, but since there 'are' others, how are we to relate to them? Since everyone experiences his internal self/other as an external projection of one's self in contrast to others, we come to recognize that we are the same. You have your self and other; I have my self and other. But since your self is my other and my self is your other, is there any self or other? Are they not really just the same? These are Zhuangzi's questions, and he assumes we will reach the same conclusion as he, that, if we can transcend our own subjectivity, we will realize that they are the same, and this enables a paradigm shift of enormous implications. Suddenly, everything "basks in the full daylight of heaven". Suddenly, all distinctions and boundaries fall away.

This is really not all that unlike Confucius' "single thread" that runs through his entire philosophy, namely the ability to "liken-[others]-unto-oneself" (shu) that led to his version of the "golden rule": "Do not do to others what you would not want done to you". For Confucius this is an ethical consideration, the foundation for which is unclear, despite its undeniable appeal. Zhuangzi's use is quite different, however, though I am having difficulty finding an appropriate label. Perhaps it is ontological, the way things manifest as self-other. Or perhaps it is epistemological, the way our knowing is perspectivally derived and thus undermined by the equally valid perspectives of others. In any event, he, too, suggests we come to realize that others are like ourselves and thereby realize a wider view that transcends our own subjectivity (even if experienced within that subjectivity).

The point is, if we can realize how that we are all the same, we can free ourselves from the narrow "separating pens" of our own subjectivity so as to freely wander among all subjectivities which, in this context, Zhuangzi calls "following along with the present 'this' (subjectivity)".

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

Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Trey Smith

In a little less than 2 weeks, I will make a trip to Seattle to see a Rheumatologist. A recent blood test showed that I have a sky high sed rate and my RH factor also is very high. Add to this the shape of my hands and I will be absolutely shocked if I am not diagnosed with Psoriatic Arthritis or Rheumatoid Arthritis.

So, what is it about my hands? Over the past year I have developed a number of nodes on the knuckles of both hands. I also have 2 or 3 nodes in areas just above my wrists. Both of my index fingers are turning inward toward the other fingers -- my right index finger has almost turned 90 degrees. Needless to say, both of my hands hurt a lot, particularly the left one. I have taken to wearing my arthritic gloves 24/7.

And it's not just a hand problem either. I'm having the same sorts of problems with both of my feet: nodes in my knuckles and big toes that are becoming misshapen.

Ah, just another way my body seems to have betrayed me!

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XIII: The Equalization That Liberates

Scott Bradley

"[T]he primary idea of a whole is of a correlative pair, which Zhuangzi pares down to its purest and most abstract form: This and That, or Self and Not-self." This, as Ziporyn points out (Ironies of Oneness and Difference), is the central theme of the Qiwulun chapter of the Zhuangzi (the second of the Inner Chapters) which he renders: "Equalizing Assessments of Things", and I take to mean "Equalizing our Opinions about What This Mess Is All About". His goal is to demonstrate that our opinions are a consequence of our individual perspectives, and thus perspectivally relative, on the one hand, and to thereby give us a cognitive tool by which to free ourselves from clinging to our own opinions as if to 'truth', on the other. When thoroughly realized, he believes, this awareness frees us from every dependence. Everything is in effect equalized, and this is the experience of psychological Dao.

Zhuangzi is by no means unique in his use of reason to demonstrate the limits of reason; his friend Huizi did the same, and Zhuangzi probably learned it from him. What is unique in Zhuangzi is that he sees it as an opportunity to reconnect with the life-process itself, rather than as merely an occasion for intellectual skepticism.

We previously saw in Ziqi's declaration, "I have lost me", that the self is precisely this, a self-other pairing wherein one objectifies oneself. To lose the objectified "me", however momentarily or partially, is to suddenly lose the boundary which separates one from everything else; one experiences "oneness"; all things are "equalized". The experience is a psychological one, and not intended to declare that "all is One", however 'true' that may be.

Thus, Ziqi is suddenly able to recognize all the noises that humans make, all their opinions, as metaphorically equivalent to the sounds created by the wind blowing through the forest. Recognizing the subjectivity of each, including himself, he is able to realize a more objective view, the view from Dao.

So, yes, all our blabbering is "no different from the twittering of baby birds". Far from being simply dismissive of the human expression, however, this realization can be incredibly liberating. But before it can be so, something has to give within us, something has to break, something has to be "lost"; and that, of course, is "me".

With the loss of “me” comes the freedom to wander; for “I” remain, though now without the need to fixedly cling to anything: to be ‘right’ or to establish myself in contrast to others.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XII: The Essential Duality

Scott Bradley

For philosophical Daoism generally, and Zhuangzi particularly, Ziporyn tells us, "the primary idea of a whole is of a correlative pair." (Ironies of Oneness and Difference) One, for all practical purposes, is always two. A psychological experience of oneness is, by virtue of its being experienced, two. This does not negate the possibility of One, something suggested by the experience, but only of the possibility of being One — and knowing it. Or, should we wish to insist on Oneness, then it seems necessary to call it an ironic oneness, where our "not-one is also One". To be human, to be self-conscious, is to be essentially dualistic. Indeed, there seems to be no other foundation for dualism in all the Universe except through life generally, and self-consciousness especially. (Unless one posits a God that creates and especially one who says, "Let us create man in our own image", the Hebrew (elohim) for God in this instance being plural.)

This idea of the whole as a correlative pair is a "single thread" running throughout the Daoist view of pretty much everything. We saw it in the Laozi where the manifest and (somewhat) intelligible world cannot be understood in wholeness without reference to the unintelligible Dao, a coherence (whole) that is necessarily incoherent. Yin/Yang, in Daoism which prioritizes Yin, unintelligibility, is similarly a correlative pair which, if we want to remain true to the human experience, must remain two. Philosophical Daoism is phenomenological in that it does not go where human experience cannot go. There is no doctrinal declaration of Oneness in Daoism.

Ziporyn calls these pairings "asymmetrical" in that they are not co-equals, a common misunderstanding of Yin/Yang; in Daoism, there is a prioritization of the unknowable and mysterious, Yin. (In Confucianism, Yang, the known, is prioritized.)

For Zhuangzi, the essential human experience of self-consciousness in similarly understood as a correlative pair: self and other. "I have lost me" is thus both a recognition of this necessary pairing and the prioritization of one over the other, if we regard the loss of "me" ("I" as object to oneself) as a positive value. But, as we saw in the previous post, this is all very ironic in the sense that the loss of "me" is clearly not the loss of "I", and for Ziqi to observe this phenomenon and explain it would seem to betray it. Thus, we cannot speak of this experience in any absolutist terms; to "have no self" is not to be no-self. It is to be informed by the experience of having no self (just as to be informed by Mystery (incomprehensible metaphysical Dao, Yin) is not to lay claim to having known, realized or merged with Mystery).

Zhuangzi tells us that the hypothetical sages of old realized that their "not-one is also One", and that, as long as we remain human, is about the best we can do.

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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XI: Beyond Self/Other and Back Again

Scott Bradley

If, through the mythical imagery of Peng, we have yet to learn to fly without wings, to depend on nothing and thereby follow along with whatever happens, well then, Zhuangzi offers us another point of entry, a reasoned demonstration of how the actual mechanics of our hewing a self from out of the unintelligible whole invites us to loosen our grip on that self and its objectified other so as to become unfixed.

Zhuangzi begins with the sage Ziqi who declares, "I have lost me." Much conjecture abounds as to how this happened, but Zhuangzi seems more interested in describing the mechanics of the self that makes it possible, and judging from the explanation provided by the sage himself, insight into this is in itself a means to that end, the loss of "me". For Zhuangzi, as for Zen, cracking the nut of our conventional interface with our experienced reality opens us up to an experience beyond the dualism of thought.

The simple statement, "I have lost me", suggests the profound paradoxical subtleties of a self that both is and is not. It finds its parallel in metaphysical Dao, apparently necessarily, everywhere manifest, yet nowhere to be found. Indeed, in Ziqi's explanatory metaphor of the sounds of the wind in the forest, and his unanswered question as to "who is the rouser?", it is not always clear of which he speaks, Dao or self; perhaps it is both.

"I have lost me" (wu sang wo), Ziporyn tells us, uses two words for "self": "unlike wu, wo can be paired as a dyad with bi, signifying the contrastive self, the self as opposed to others . . ." What has been lost is not self per se, but that aspect of self that posits an other. This is reflected in Zhuangzi's introductory description of Ziqi as found by his disciple, "as if loosened from a partner", or as if he had "lost his opposite". The first and primary "other" is oneself, "me". If Ziqi is no longer an object to himself, presumably neither is the world. He has experienced the (psychological) oneness later expressed as "the ten thousand things and I are one" (2:32).

This, Ziporyn says, reflects the "monistic" interpretation of the wind in the trees — every sound is the expression of Dao. But though in some sense 'true', nothing is ever so straight-forward with Zhuangzi, and he goes on to have Ziqi say that "each one selects out his own [identity]". One may experience oneness, yet there remains the not-one, and this Ziporyn calls the ironic identity, and I describe as that which both is and is not. The Zhuangzian vision of the transcendence of self is thus profoundly paradoxical in that one is, remains, and exercises being a self, while realizing that there is no self at all. Is this not an invitation to wander and to play?

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

Sunday, February 23, 2014

When Turning Left, Use Your Blinker

Trey Smith

One complaint I have often received on this blog is my fusion of leftist ideology with philosophical Taoism. I make no apologies for it because we each travel down different paths and I tend to travel down those to the left of center. Therefore, it is understandable that my tao would tend to be a left-leaning one.

That said, I sort of understand how this criticism arises and, with this blog in its winding down stage, I have created a new one: The [Left] Left Coast. I will endeavor to use the new blog as a platform for my radical, left-leaning commentary.

Once I finish posting another 4 - 6 weeks of Scott's insightful contemplations and a few entries of my own here and there, this blog will go on a prolonged hiatus. I'm not saying definitively that it will end -- though it certainly may -- but I'm guessing I will only post to it periodically going forward. I've told Scott that the door here will forever be open to him and the same is true for Ta-Wan, but we've each written about this same overall topic for years and it feels like a good time to turn over a new leaf.

I don't know how often I will post on The [Left] Left Coast, but knowing myself, I'm sure it will be off and on. When it's on, there probably will be a flurry of posts and, when it's off, I may go days without posting anything. But I do plan to move two features from here over to there: Morning News and the Afternoon Matinee (though, maybe, I should jettison the use of the word Afternoon in combination with Matinee). ;-)

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi X: Two Points of Entry

Scott Bradley

Having suggested that we ride atop whatever 'is' or happens, Zhuangzi asks "You would then be depending on — what?" Assuming that we are quick studies and have answered, "We don't know, and it doesn't matter", he adds his own sweeping conclusion: "Thus I say, the Consummate Person has no fixed identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the sage has no name." This, I would suggest, is the culminating expression of his vision, not simply as an idea, but as a realized (albeit ideal) way of being in the world.

With reference to this, Ziporyn introduces his treatment of the next chapter: "The Zhuangzian person does not possess any particular value or merit or identity, but is able to produce endless values and merits and identities. But how is this possible?" My immediate answer is, "He just told us." Ziporyn, for his part, is introducing Zhuangzi's arguments for this position that allow for another point of entry into his vision, but that he, Ziporyn, takes as the "core" of his philosophy.

I do not wish to quibble unnecessarily, but only wish to point out that Zhuangzi's vision rests on no arguments at all — which is also a major outcome of his demonstration of the limits of reason in the second chapter. The whole point is that life admits to no explanation and thus arguments for a particular way to live are, in effect, "adding to the process of life." The last thing Zhuangzi has in mind is the application of principles. Ziporyn, of course, knows this better than I.

The power of analogy and myth is that they invite us to experience, or rather require us to experience them so as to understand them. My point is that, though Zhuangzi's demonstration of the reasoned mechanics of the sage's way of being in the world is both valid and helpful, that way is already expressed in Peng in a manner more exemplary of the way itself.

This distinction might be further illustrated by the Christian "proofs" for the existence of God (however specious). The Christian theologian offers these "proofs" with a view to bringing us to the point of an intellectual belief so as to help facilitate an experiential belief. The point is to experience God; belief in God does not suffice. (My guess is that the experience is real, though the God is not.)

Of course all Zhuangzi’s words, like Laozi’s, are a self-negating compromise, as they would readily admit. Understood as such, both the myth of Peng and the reasoned demonstration of “The Illumination of the Obvious” (Zhuangzi’s reasoned look at our experience) are only ideas and thus equally fall short of the actual experience of the sage; they can only serve as invitations to go beyond them in experience. We might also say that the myth is a way of entry for the more dim-witted (like myself) and the reasoned demonstration for the brighter among us.

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

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi IX: What's True?

Scott Bradley

Before moving on to Ziporyn's treatment of the Qiwulun (2nd) chapter of the Zhuangzi, I'd like to take one last look at how the more difficult philosophical arguments of that chapter are more simply reflected in the myth of Peng.

In an apparently irrelevant aside in his description of Peng's ascent to ninety thousand miles above the earth, Zhuangzi asks: "And the blue on blue of the sky — is that the sky's true color?" (1:4; Ziporyn) As is so frequently the case, he leaves the question unanswered. But then the word translated as "true" [zheng] reappears in his summation of the mind set free of psychological dependence: "But suppose you were to chariot upon what is true both to Heaven and earth, riding atop the six atmospheric breaths, so that your wandering could nowhere be brought to a halt. You would then be depending on — what?" (1:8) Ziporyn makes note of this apparent reference back to the question of the sky's "true" color.

So, what is "true", that we might know to chariot upon it? If we had to know, wouldn't this be to depend on something? The point, then, is that whatever is true of things is irrelevant to our wandering. It is enough that we chariot upon whatever seems to be true, without needing to know what is in fact "true".

Coming back to earth, we can see how this applies to our more mundane social experience. Let's suppose that we feel imposed upon, that our 'rights', our needs, are not properly taken into account. We might be inclined to speculate upon what faults in those who slight us possess; they are selfish, full of resentments (which, of course, is precisely what we are ourselves nourishing in our speculation). Yet, since we find it so incredibly difficult to discover our own motivations, how can we presume to be able to know the "true" motivations of others? Dwelling on what is "true" of others, moreover, disallows our riding atop their behaviors so as to freely wander.

In the end, all that really matters is our own response to what we encounter; we don't need to know what is “true” of it. Only when we allow things to be whatever they are without our knowing what they are will our "wandering nowhere be brought to a halt".

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

Friday, February 21, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi VIII: What? Means Who?

Scott Bradley

I always say that Zhuangzi suggests that we depend on nothing, but this is not, in fact, what he says. He actually says that if we simply ride atop whatever happens, we will depend on — what? I answer: Nothing. But Ziporyn (Ironies of Oneness and Difference, p.164) draws attention to the fact that Zhuangzi restrains himself from saying anything so definitive; for him, the question is the limit. We have already seen how Zhuangzi's non-dependence is in effect dependence on everything; for, since the psychological non-dependence of which he speaks is the consequence of not depending on any one thing, not selecting out any particular thing or event upon which to depend, not hewing out something from the unhewn upon which to fix, one is involved with and “charioting upon” everything. So, there is dependence — but upon what? Upon whatever this life-experience is all about, that is, the unknowable. And this is why I suggest his is essentially a call to surrender into Mystery.

We have also seen that the apparent ceaselessness of transformation, if allowed to truly inform our orientation to the world and our experience, calls forth our non-dependent dependence, and this in turn calls forth no-fixed-identity. If all is transformation, and we unite with that so as to not fix in dependence on any one thing, then neither are we able to remain ourselves a fixed identity. These 'three' (all is transformation, non-dependent dependence, no-fixed-identity) must certainly be spontaneously and mutually arising; it is not that one leads to the other, but that each one is the other.

Thus, Ziporyn points out that the 'what?' of our dependence ineluctably leads to the 'who?' of our identity. "This dependence on 'what?' — not as an answer but as a perpetual question — is the ironic independence of the ironic Daoist identity, the perpetual 'who?'" "The true self, in short, is 'Who?'. Or, to put it otherwise, the true self is, 'Is there really a true self or not?'" "The true self is, in a word, unintelligible, or, more to the point, unintelligibility itself." Zhuangzi advocated neither "no-self" nor 'true-self', but rather 'no-known-self'. We are as much Mystery as everything else; we needn’t look to the cosmos to discover the perpetual ‘what?’. Surrender into one’s self is no different than surrender into the ultimate Mystery.

This is an "ironic identity" in that it both is and is not; like metaphysical Dao, it is conspicuous in its absence, present as an absence. 'Someone' seems to be here, and thus we get on with the stuff of living, but now transformed by an awareness of the apparent emptiness of that 'someone', we do that living as unfixed: "The Zhuangzian person does not possess any particular value or merit or identity, but is able to produce endless values and merits and identities." We are able to live and engage in the realities of the moment, yet are also able to follow along with the ever-changing nature of the moment, without loss. ‘No-self’ and ‘true self’ are equally in some sense fixed. Where the question ends, the fantasy begins.

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

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Gods Must Be Angry

Trey Smith

Over the past month or so, I think I've come to a greater understanding of why so-called primitive societies believed that the weather reflected the emotional disposition of their god or gods. We have had several nasty storms roll on shore and I get to witness nature's "wrath" during my early morning beach excursions with my dog, Jaz.

There have been several mornings near sunrise when Jaz and I stand near the south jetty watching in awe as the churning sea crashes into the rocks and, were we to stand too close, we would be lashed by the waves as well. Combine this with pelting rains -- even snow on two occasions -- and knock you off your feet winds and it is easy to see why the indigenous people of this region (to identify but one group) believed that these climactic conditions signified that god/gods was/were pissed to hell!

I sometimes wonder the same thing myself.

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi VII: The Self of Zhuangzi

Scott Bradley

The mighty bird Peng overflies the tiny quail, dove and cicada, who look up and laugh at such a grandiose, yet to their thinking useless, exhibition of the possibilities of flight. Ziporyn observes that this may very well be Zhuangzi's opening swipe at his good friend and sparring partner Huizi (Ironies of Oneness and Difference, p. 163, note 32). Peng is to his scoffers as Zhuangzi is to Huizi.

In many respects, there is good reason to believe that Zhuangzi wrote for and in answer to Huizi. His arguments are often a continuation of those of Huizi, though they lead him to altogether different conclusions in terms of how one might best respond to the human experience. His frequent use of Huizi as a foil to make his points provides further evidence to this effect.

With this in mind, the closing two vignettes of the introductory chapter that begins with the flight of Peng take on a new depth of personal significance. In both, Huizi suggests that Zhuangzi's ideas are "big, but useless". Zhuangzi replies that Huizi has clearly failed to realize the usefulness of the useless (just as Peng's scoffers have failed to appreciate the value of living in awareness of one's transience and embedding in Oblivion).

There is also the (probably apocryphal) story (in the 17th chapter) of Zhuangzi's visit to Liang where Huizi was prime minister. Thinking that Zhuangzi was intending to take his position, Huizi tries unsuccessfully to intercept him, but Zhuangzi shows up quite voluntarily and scathingly likens Huizi's concern to that of an owl clinging fearfully to a rotten rat as a vast and majestic bird who, like Peng, arises from the Northern Sea and flies to the Southern Sea, and only eats the extremely rare fruit of the bamboo, flies overhead.

This personal and somewhat autobiographical dimension helps to further illuminate the context and meaning of some of Zhuangzi's ideas. However, there are also lessons to be learned in the simple fact that Zhuangzi's philosophy was a very personal and subjective one. This is not science. This is a self working through for itself a liberating response to life, and in its overt subjectivity, essentially suggesting we do the same.

There are those, of course, who most scholar-fully and seriously, will assure us that Zhuangzi’s authorship of the Inner Chapters is highly doubtful, and therefore . . . what? I reply that it is also highly unlikely that a bird named Peng transforms from a fish, ascends ninety thousand miles, and flies to a Southern Oblivion. So what? The harmful myths are the ones not recognized as such, and in our age these tend to be the ones that lurk behind the facades of so-called objectivity. They, too, fail to understand the usefulness of the useless. The point is to awaken to the dreaming, not from it. And this was the objective of whoever wrote this particular myth.

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

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Big Eight O

Trey Smith

If my mother were still alive, she would have turned 80 today. As it is, she didn't live to see 60. She died nearly 22 years ago.

So, today represents nothing more than a day of remembrance and yet, I only vaguely remember my mom. Because of the way my autistic brain works, I can't hear her voice in my mind. If not for photographs, I wouldn't remember what she looked like. I certainly don't remember her presence. All I do remember are facts and tidbits that have been stored away in my rational archives.

In some ways, my lack of personalized memories is sort of sad. On the other hand, I see some benefit to it as well. I don't tend to dwell on the past like so many other people do. I soak in the present and, when now becomes then, it disappears down the proverbial rabbit hole.

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi VI: Breaking Out of the Pen

Scott Bradley

Seeing Peng flying incredibly high above, the fledgling dove scoffs and laughs, "Where does he think he's going?" "The same place you're going," Peng might reply. The only real difference between them is that Peng has fully taken onboard an understanding of the nature of apparent reality as transformation and his origin in and return to Oblivion, The Pool of Heaven, so that his flight is made in freedom from dependence on the need to accomplish anything or to be anything in particular. Oblivion awaits no matter how Peng or anything else makes the flight of existence. The dove, on the other hand, is locked into his narrow point of view and sees making it from one bush or tree as a matter of great importance, which of course, also makes him of great importance.

Following on this, Zhuangzi refers to his contemporary philosopher, Song Rongzi (Song Xing, Sung Hsing), who would, in his turn, laugh at the dove and those who, like the dove, strive for a 'name'. For Song has realized that one's value need not depend on anything external, principally the opinion of others as won through 'accomplishments', but rather internally through one's own integrity. Yet Zhuangzi, in his turn, laughs at Song; for why should we depend on anything? It is enough that we exist. There are no conditions that need to be met. Or is there some lack in vastness, some flaw in the Totality?

Song Rongzi saw the narrowness of a dependence on things external, even if one were to be the head of "some one village" or even a country. This, according to Graham (Disputers of the Tao, p. 96), he described as living in a "separating pen" (pie yu). The way to change the world is by "changing the inner man by becoming aware of restricted viewpoints . . . the freeing of self-respect from the judgment of others." To this, Zhuangzi gives a qualified nod; for Song has indeed seen something of both non-dependence and its relation to breaking out of the "pen" of our own point of view, our own opinion about life and things. For this failure to recognize the constraining nature of any one interpretation of the world, is itself a form of dependence. And this is why Zhuangzi goes on at great length to demonstrate the relative character of our individual perspectives, to help us break free from the separating pen of our own mind.

The world is a pen in which we are obliged to dwell; let us not fool ourselves into believing we have somehow freed ourselves from having a narrow perspective, even when we have broken free of our belief the one we hold is the 'right' one. It is not that we break free of every pen, but only that we realize that we are always in one. It is this realization through which "our wandering can never be brought to a halt". We wander in non-dependence even in dependence on a point of view, just as Peng flew free though utterly dependent on the seasonal monsoon wind.

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

What the Doctor Ordered

Trey Smith

For years, doctors have told me that, if I only would walk more often, I would be surprised how much better my ailing left hip will feel. Well, since moving to Ocean Shores, I have been walking far more than I have since my 20s. Most days, Jaz and I go out for a 20 - 40 minute walk twice per day. We walk on the beach. We tromp through the dunes near the beach. Intermittently, we go to one of the three state parks nearby and walk through the forests just off of the dunes and beach.

While I think these walks are good for my overall health -- certainly benefits my cardiovascular system -- I can't say that my hip feels significantly better. It still hurts at about the same rate as before. In fact, there are many days in which the act of walking is a struggle in and of itself. I often must lift my left leg with my hands and arms to get it back into the car once the walk is done. And I still lay in bed at night trying to get to sleep with throbbing pain in my hip and knee.

But hey, it is what it is. It is better to walk with pain than not to be able to walk at all. And so, every morning I get up to take Jaz out and...we walk.

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi V: At Ease As the Ever-Changing

Scott Bradley

We are exploring the opening fable of the Zhuangzi, the flight of Peng, where we find three of Zhuangzi's major themes (transformation, non-dependence, and perspectival relativism) metaphorically, and thus simply, introduced.

All is transformation; the only experienced constant is change. Peng is herself representative of transformation — now a fish, now a bird, soon to return to the Oblivion from which she arose.

She makes the flight of existence in complete dependence on the seasonal monsoon winds, mounting to such an incredible height that 'below' is as "blue" as the blue 'above'. (Is it really blue, Zhuangzi asks, or is it a trick of infinite distance? We do not know. It does not matter. We might also ask if there is any more an above or a below, though that doesn't matter either.) Though utterly dependent on the conditions of existence, being herself thoroughly released into the transformation of all things, making her flight in full awareness of her origins in Oblivion and her return to the same, she "rides atop the six atmospheric breaths", free to "wander without halt". As part of the transforming flow itself, she depends on nothing, though completely dependent on whatever happens. Hers is the inner non-dependence that frees her to wander at ease as the ever-changing in the ever-changing.

But there are those of "small consciousness", those locked within their narrow view — the dove, the quail and the cicada — and they scoff at such freedom. They know the ultimate in flying — theirs. Flights of non-dependence are folly; it is enough to live as they do, finding purpose in making it to the next terrestrial bush or tree.

Peng, were she able to see them through the blue, would smile and bless them, knowing that every perspective, every expression, is equalized in the oneness of the ever-transforming.

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

Monday, February 17, 2014

Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Self Evident

Performed by Ani DiFranco

Us people are just poems
We're 90% metaphor
With a leanness of meaning
Approaching hyper-distillation
And once upon a time
We were moonshine
Rushing down the throat of a giraffe
Yes, rushing down the long hallway
Despite what the p.a. announcement says
Yes, rushing down the long hall
Down the long stairs
In a building so tall
That it will always be there
Yes, it's part of a pair
There on the bow of Noah's ark
The most prestigious couple
Just kickin back parked
Against a perfectly blue sky
On a morning beatific
In its Indian summer breeze
On the day that America
Fell to its knees
After strutting around for a century
Without saying thank you
Or please

And the shock was subsonic
And the smoke was deafening
Between the setup and the punch line
'Cause we were all on time for work that day
We all boarded that plane for to fly
And then while the fires were raging
We all climbed up on the window sill
And then we all held hands
And jumped into the sky

And every borough looked up when it heard the first blast
And then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
And the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
Looked more like war than anything I've seen so far
So far
So far
So fierce and ingenious
A poetic specter so far gone
That every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
Over 'Oh my God' and Tthis is unbelievable' and on and on
And I'll tell you what, while we're at it
You can keep the Pentagon
Keep the propaganda
Keep each and every tv
That's been trying to convince me
To participate
In some prep school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution
Perpetuate retribution
Even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
Is still hanging in the air
And there's ash on our shoes
And there's ash in our hair
And there's a fine silt on every mantle
From Hell's Kitchen to Brooklyn
And the streets are full of stories
Sudden twists and near misses
And soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
With tales of narrowly averted disasters
And the whiskey is flowin
Like never before
As all over the country
Folks just shake their heads
And pour

So here's a toast to all the folks that live in Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, El Salvador

Here's a toast to the folks living on the Pine Ridge Reservation
Under the stone cold gaze of Mt. Rushmore

Here's a toast to all those nurses and doctors
Who daily provide women with a choice
Who stand down a threat the size of Oklahoma City
Just to listen to a young woman's voice

Here's a toast to all the folks on death row right now
Awaiting the executioner's guillotine
Who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
To find peace in the form of a dream, peace in the form of a dream

'Cause take away our Playstations
And we are a third world nation
Under the thumb of some blue blood royal son
Who stole the Oval Office and that phony election
I mean
It don't take a weatherman
To look around and see the weather
Jeb said he'd deliver Florida, folks
And boy, did he ever

And we hold these truths to be self evident:
#1 George W. Bush is not President
#2 America is not a true democracy
#3 The media is not fooling me
'Cause I am a poem heeding hyper-distillation
I've got no room for a lie so verbose
I'm looking out over my whole human family
And I'm raising my glass in a toast

Here's to our last drink of fossil fuels
May we vow to get off of this sauce
Shoo away the swarms of commuter planes
And find that train ticket we lost
'Cause once upon a time, the line followed the river
And peeked into all the backyards
And the laundry was waving
The graffiti was teasing us
From brick walls and bridges
We were rolling over ridges
Through valleys
Under stars
I dream of touring like Duke Ellington
In my own railroad car
I dream of waiting on the tall blonde wooden benches
In a grand station aglow with grace
And then standing out on the platform
And feeling the air on my face

Give back the night its distant whistle
Give the darkness back its soul
Give the big oil companies the finger, finally
And relearn how to rock-n-roll
Yes, the lessons are all around us, and the truth is waiting there
So it's time to pick through the rubble, clean the streets and clear the air
Get our government to pull its big dick out of the sand
Of someone else's desert
Put it back in its pants
And quit the hypocritical chants of
Freedom forever

'Cause when one lone phone rang
In two thousand and one
At ten after nine
On nine one one
Which is the number we all called
When that lone phone rang right off the wall
Right off our desk and down the long hall
Down the long stairs
In a building so tall
That the whole world turned
Just to watch it fall

And while we're at it
Remember the first time around?
The bomb?
The Ryder truck?
The parking garage?
The princess that didn't even feel the pea?
Remember joking around in our apartment on Avenue D?

Can you imagine how many paper coffee cups would have to change their design
Following a fantastical reversal of the New York skyline?!

It was a joke
At the time
And that was just a few years ago
So let the record show
That the FBI was all over that case
That the plot was obvious and in everybody's face
And scoping that scene
Or is it KGB?
Committing countless crimes against humanity
With this kind of eventuality
As its excuse
For abuse after expensive abuse
And it didn't have a clue
Look, another window to see through
Way up here
On the 104th floor
Another key
Another door
10% literal
90% metaphor
3000 some poems disguised as people
On an almost too perfect day
Must be more than pawns
In some asshole's passion play
So now it's your job
And it's my job
To make it that way
To make sure they didn't die in vain
Baby, listen
Hear the train?
~ from Lyric Wiki ~

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi IV: Flying Without Wings

Scott Bradley

I have suggested that the vast bird Peng who takes the flight of existence from Oblivion back to Oblivion is aware of her participation in and as transformation. The text does not say so, but since Zhuangzi would have us take her as our example, we might assume that it is so, if only for instruction. This awareness of our end and beginning in what amounts to an unnamable nothingness is an oft enunciated theme in philosophies of inner liberation. In both the Zhuangzi and Zen literature we are encouraged to "return to that which we were before we were born", or even "to what we were before our parents were born". For the same reason the Laozi tells us "Return is the movement of the Dao".

The point is to be informed in our existence of our embedding in non-existence. This may not be as we would prefer it to be, but without conjuring up a palliative, speculative metaphysics, it remains the most obvious fact of our existence. There is pain here. But then there is a great deal of pain in life generally. The real question then is whether honesty is worth the extra pain to see if we can break through the pain. (I see no value in pain for honesty's sake, unless honesty can help to alleviate the pain.) Those who truly find succor in belief (one has a 'soul' which is preserved and 'saved', for example) are, to my thinking, best left in their chosen dream. Those of us who are unable to believe this, however, are required to find another, more believable, dream. The paradigm shift implied in giving up on a fixed identity by way of seeing one's self as a momentary phenomenon of transformation is such a dream, and one that can help to alleviate the pain of existence. (Buddhism, to my thinking, identifies the pain, but in the end defaults to a religious belief in a definitive metaphysics and thus requires a belief in which I, at least, am unable to participate.)

I call it all a dream simply because it really is all just made up; it's all a mental exercise, the coping of the strange (but wonderful) arising of self-consciousness in a minute backwater of a Universe itself nested in utter Mystery. Zhuangzi's way makes no claim to Truth, but simply suggests an effective means to cope.

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

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Black or White

Performed by Michael Jackson

I took my baby on a Saturday bang
Boy is that girl with you? Yes, we're one and the same
Now I believe in miracles
And a miracle has happened tonight

But, if you're thinkin' about my baby
It don't matter if you're black or white

They print my message in the Saturday Sun
I had to tell them I ain't second to none
And I told about equality and it's true
Either you're wrong or you're right

But, if you're thinkin' about my baby
It don't matter if you're black or white

I am tired of this devil, I am tired of this stuff
I am tired of this business, goin' when the going gets rough
I ain't scared of your brother, I ain't scared of no sheets
I ain't scared of nobody, goin' when the gettin' gets mean

Protection for gangs, clubs and nations
Causing grief in human relations
It's a turf war on a global scale
I'd rather hear both sides of the tale

See, it's not about races just places, faces
Where your blood comes from is where your space is
I've seen the bright get duller
I'm not going to spend my life bein' a color

Don't tell me you agree with me
When I saw you kicking dirt in my eye
But, if you're thinkin' about my baby
It don't matter if you're black or white

I said if you're thinkin' of being my baby
It don't matter if you're black or white
I said if you're thinkin' of being my brother
It don't matter if you're black or white

It's black, it's white it's tough for you to get by
It's black, it's white
It's black, it's white it's tough for you to get by
It's black, it's white
~ from Lyric Wiki ~

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi III: Being What Happens Is Non-Dependence

Scott Bradley

This might be a good time to clarify that, despite the title of this post and those preceding and following, my invocation of Ziporyn’s name is not intended to imply that what I say here is a faithful representation of his views. Much of what I say, however, is an affirmative response to what I understand his take on Zhuangzi to be, and thus I continue (for convenience) to use his name, even when I do not make explicit reference to his words (in Ironies of Oneness and Difference).

I began this series with the observation that the most important aspects of Zhuangzi's philosophy — transformation, dependence and perspectival relativism — can be seen in his opening fable of the flight of Peng. This, I think, is instructive in itself. As revolutionary as his ideas might be, they are at root, really quite simple.

The vast bird Peng is herself representative of transformation; she arose from the vast fish Kun, and since Kun means "fish roe", the suggestion is that even this origin as a fish is really just from the transformative potentiality of not-yet-quite-a-fish. All is transformation. Peng flies from one Oblivion to another which, it turns out, is really just one Oblivion after all (the text identifying both destinations as "The Pool of Heaven"). This is the flight of existence of which we all partake. However, Peng, we might assume, is aware of herself as transformation, and this is the critical importance of our understanding that all is transformation — so are we. This helps to loosen our white-knuckled grip on being a "fixed-identity", and frees us to "wander".

To experience oneself as transformation is also to experience complete non-dependence relative to anything fixed. What is there to "lose" when all things are ceaselessly changing, including ourselves? Being transformation, what do we require? One rendering of a thought of Guo Xiang (252-312), the final editor of (unless one includes A.C. Graham!) and first extant commentator on the Zhuangzi, is: "Do what happens". This speaks to spontaneity, but might just as easily be rendered: "Be what happens." Being what happens is being transformation.

Being what happens is, in effect, depending on everything; but depending on everything implies depending on no one thing which is what Zhuangzi sees as the liberating experience of non-dependence on anything fixed. All that’s left is to enjoy, wander and play.

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

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Afternoon Matinee: Protest - Another Disaster

Performed by The Samples

Every day another page gets printed
A picture taken through a dirty lens
It's been fun but maybe now it's over
The candles melting fast at both ends

But there's a road with no signs
And I'm going soon

It's a wonder just how many people
Thought the earth was easy to defend
In the poison wind we'll breathe much different
Watch the enemy become the friend

But there's a road with no signs
And I'm going soon

It's another disaster
It's the Devil with laughter
All the faces in plaster
Everything's going faster
It's another disaster

Only dreams and water dance below us
Shining up against the walls of stone
Find another picture lost in wreckage
As broken pieces find their way back home

But there's a road with no signs
And I'm going soon

It's another disaster
It's the Devil with laughter
All the faces in plaster
Everything's going faster
It's another disaster

It's another disaster
Everything's going faster
It's the devil with laughter

It's another disaster
It's another disaster
It's another disaster
~ from Lyric Wiki ~

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi II: Harmonizing with Transformation

Scott Bradley

There is no better place to begin an inquiry into the philosophy of Zhuangzi than at the beginning — his opening fable about the flight of the mighty bird Peng. I have previously called this flight The Flight of Existence since it arises from Oblivion and returns to Oblivion, as do we all. Who then is Peng? Peng, we are told, began as a vast fish named Kun that transformed into a vast bird. Who is Kun? Kun means "fish roe", a tiny speak of potential fish. Thus, being required to start with something, Zhuangzi starts with a fish that is identified as not quite yet a fish. This lack of a fixed identity for anything consequent to the ceaseless transformation of everything is at the core of Zhuangzi's philosophy.

Transformation, ceaseless change, for Zhuangzi, is the most obvious aspect of our apparent reality upon which he cares to opine. Typically, this does not suffice to satisfy the minds of religious, or for that matter, secular philosophers. We wish to preserve, at the minimum, our own identity, and thus posit a guarantor of that fixed identity. Thus, even those religious philosophies that make the most of the supposedly illusory nature of our perceived reality, do so with a view to suggesting some absolutist alternative.

Zhuangzi would have none of it. There may be an Absolute, but it is suggested only by its absence, and thus honesty requires of us to dwell in that absence. This, to my thinking, is the great watershed that distinguishes this philosophy of liberation from most others. I call it phenomenological because it concerns itself not with speculative explanations of our actual experience, but with the experience itself.

So, Zhuangzi says get onboard the transformation train. Harmonize your sense of being in the world with this overwhelmingly obvious experience of the transience of all things, oneself especially. Make this flight of existence in full cognizance of its end and beginning in Oblivion. To do so, is to undergo yet another transformation, the transformation to being transformation, of releasing one's grip on being a fixed-identity to having-no-fixed-identity. This requires nothing more than acknowledging our most fundamental experience. No Universal Anything is required.

There is, of course, a contradiction here. Why is it that we have a sense of being a fixed entity, or at least, hunger to have one? Isn't this as valid an experience as that which tells us this is folly? I would answer that it is in fact that we hunger for, rather than have that experience, that demonstrates that folly. But this does not answer the question of why we have that hunger. If we view the world and the emergence of human consciousness as somehow purposive, then we might have occasion to believe our hungers have their fulfillment. But to posit a purposive Universe is to once again introduce an Absolute where none is immediately obvious.

Zhuangzi’s proto-Daoism offers the prospect of inner freedom without recourse to religion.

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

Friday, February 14, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi I: Three Gates to Inner Freedom

Scott Bradley

I left Ziporyn's treatment of Zhuangzi (in Ironies of Oneness and Difference) for last originally because, following on his discussion of Laozi, I thought my responses would be too repetitive. That no doubt would have been and remains the case, but there is also a reluctance now to attempt to encapsulate here what are some rather complex and difficult ideas, which I do not myself always thoroughly understand. The reader will know that that hasn't stopped before, nor shall it now.

Ziporyn identifies three interwoven themes in the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi: transformation, dependence, and the limits of perspectival knowledge. All three of these are seen in the fantastic opening story of the flight of the vast bird Peng from the Northern to the Southern Sea. And all three can, I think, be effective gates providing access to his larger vision of inner freedom.

Of these three, my preferred 'gate' is that of non-dependence, although each of the three supports the other two. The favorite of 'philosophers' would seem to be Zhuangzi's perspectival relativism, something they can get their analytical teeth into, and upon which they can opine without getting all fuzzy and mystical.

Transformation is understood as never-ceasing (in the experienced world) and thus as an invitation to let go of any pretense of being fixed. This points to the advantages of having no-fixed-identity.

Non-dependence follows on this in that to depend on something is to fix oneself in relation to something else. This is an ironic non-dependence, however, since it is really to depend on everything in the sense of riding atop whatever happens. The non-dependence consists in depending on nothing in particular; joining the flow of ceaseless-transformation, one depends on whatever happens, occupying the moment and releasing the past.

Perspectival relativism demonstrates that no one paradigm can be depended on to provide a fixed truth whereby to fix oneself. Like non-dependence that depends on everything, so the understanding of the subjective nature of 'truth' allows one to "equalize" and accept the various paradigms as one would the various sounds coming from a storm-tossed forest.

We will be exploring these more deeply in the posts to follow.

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

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Ziporyn on Yin-Yang XI: Another Way to Cope

Scott Bradley

I will close this series with a consideration of how the Warring States development of the Yin-Yang system (later developments went in different directions) answered the challenge of Zhuangzi's perspectival relativism. (At my reading, Ziporyn does not demonstrate that the authors of the "Wings" (commentaries on the Zhouyi (Book of Changes)) actually felt the need to meet Zhuangzi's challenge specifically, though they do seem to be answering the proto-Daoist dismissal of the possibility of "true knowledge" generally.)

Zhuangzi's basic argument might be summed up thusly (without the complications of moral or epistemological considerations): Everyone has their self-other dyad; your self is my other; my self is your other. Is there then any true self or other? Zhuangzi replies that there is for each individual, but that they are equal in their validity. Their equality consists in their being completely reversible — your self-other is the same as my self-other. Thus, Zhuangzi states that every self is also other, and every other is also self. And thus every self-created dao is similarly equal.

Yin and Yang, however, are not reversible. They are never equal. One thing may sometimes be in a Yin or a Yang position in relation to other things, but the hierarchical prioritization of Yang remains throughout. A minister, for instance, is Yang to the people, but Yin to the king. Thus, though he is both Yin and Yang, Yin and Yang can never be said to be the same since they always retain their hierarchical character. In this way, the Yin-Yang dyad is able to admit to the relative character of the roles of individual things, but at the same time guarantee knowledge of the precise 'right' way to behave in each situation. It is an intelligible system; it tells us how to live definitively.

Zhuangzi, on the other hand, sees no definitive Dao yielding knowledge of how best to live, any non-ironic 'true' Dao, and thus recommends alighting like a bird in whatever tree one encounters. Being "free as a bird", we need not cling to any one tree, but can make profitable use of them all.

Zhuangzi's way is thus just one more way — all ways being (in some sense) equal; it is distinctive only in that it acknowledges this fact. This fact arises from "the Illumination of the Obvious", that is, by way of an honest look at our tenuous existential circumstances. In this sense, it might be described as a "philosophy of cope"; it makes the best of things as they appear, and does not artificially fabricate an interpretation of reality based on how one wishes things to be.

This, in any case, is how I describe my own philosophy: a philosophy of cope — making the best of circumstances, both general and personal, that are, let’s face it, less than ideal, and far from how I might wish them to be.

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Sorry For the Gap

Trey Smith

I wrote a few days ago that I would try to keep Scott's posts coming and then there is this 3 day gap! Suffice it to say, that there has been a lot of turmoil in my life the last week or so. I had a fall and, on the some day, so did my 80 year old father. My fall wasn't that serious, but my dad broke his hip. It was surgically repaired this afternoon.

On top of that, there has been a lot of stress associated with my participation at the radio station. I remain on the Board of Directors of the station, but I am no longer part of the broadcast team.

A commenter on one of my recent posts noted that things seemed to be working out at the station and this proved that I was a malingerer, someone who could be working at a paying job. I didn't feel like getting into it at the time, but some aspects of the radio station weren't working out at all and it again has something to do -- I suppose -- with my deficit in the area of social skills. At some point, I may decide to share my perspective on this ongoing situation.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ziporyn on Yin-Yang X: The Givenness of Human Desire

Scott Bradley

In his Ironies of Oneness and Difference Ziporyn several times makes this observation: "To say it again, the irreducible givenness of human desire, and its irreducibility from any reading of the existing coherences in the world, is crucial here." "Here" is the entire Yin-Yang paradigm in all its manifestations. But his point is that Chinese philosophy is essentially always about trying to fulfill human aspirations, or at least, coping with a reality in which they cannot, in fact, be wholly realized, which amounts to the same thing. We might say that Chinese philosophy has its roots in deep subjectivity. Its central concern is not about an objective "what?" about the nature of the world, but about a subjective "how?" we might best live in it.

The drift of Western philosophy, on the other hand, has tended toward the objective, and this has yielded the scientific and technological 'advances' upon which most all the world now depends. It would be folly to dismiss the positive outcomes that this objectification of the world has brought us. It would also be folly, however, to overlook the negative outcomes of such a world view. Among these is a profound sense of alienation from the world, of being separate from Nature, on the one hand, and the view of the world as just so much raw material for our consumption, on the other.

It might be argued that theism is largely responsible for Western objectivism: God created the world as apart from and utterly other than 'himself', and we are enjoined to follow 'his' example and fill the Earth and "subdue" it. The more monist philosophies of the East are not also, for their part, without their downsides.

What these two points of departure have in common, it seems to me, is this acceptance of the givenness of human desires, and the aspiration to fulfill those desires (even when their conclusions sometimes seem to dismiss them). The universal goal is to live as happily as possible.

Might it not be helpful to view the philosophies of the East as Yin to the Yang of the West? Neither is in itself truly holistic; together they provide a more balanced and harmonious interface with the world and provide humanity with a means to realize human desires tempered by true sustainability.

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

BP - Keystone to America: Bend Over and Take It

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Zipoyrn on Yin-Yang IX: The Tranquility of Turmoil

Scott Bradley

What kills the living does not die. What gives birth to all the living is not born. It is something that sends all beings off and welcomes all beings in, destroys all and completes all. Its name is the Tranquility of Turmoil. This Tranquility of Turmoil! It is what reaches completion only through its turmoil.
(Zhuangzi 6:38; Ziporyn)
In his discussion of Yin-Yang, Ziporyn speaks to the simultaneity of their complementarity and their conflict. They oppose each other, yet they do not exist apart from or without each other. Their "turmoil" is also a "tranquility".

The price of life is death. Is the price of death life? Only if we step back from concerns for our own identity and take a more abstracted view are we generally able to acknowledge that life arises out of and requires death. We glibly speak of the "cycle of life" out there in the forest, but we find it hard to apply it to ourselves.

It is so obvious in the forest. In the northwest of the American continent one might see the peculiar phenomenon of many ancient trees all in a neat row. Looking further, one might discover a "mother tree", a dead and fallen tree with numerous seedling trees taking root all along her decomposing trunk, the answer to this mystery. Without her death there would be fewer trees.

In many ways philosophical Daoism is all about taking a higher view. That view which we are able to consider and affirm when observing the life-death-life-death cycle of the forest is understood to apply to all things, ourselves included.

Completion through Tranquility and Turmoil is not the final word on Reality, any more than is Yin-Yang; the view from Dao does not consist of an explanation of the ultimate, but is rather open-ended, and ultimately empty. Looking down (as it were), we observe existence as a single coherence and affirm it in its totality. Looking up and out (as it were), we open into what can only be Mystery. Recognizing that life and death form a single string is a simple acknowledgement of the way things manifest and says nothing about ultimate Reality. Yet, it is in affirming Mystery, entrusting ourselves to it, including it in our final paradigm of coherence, that we are enabled to affirm the givens of our existence.

The larger view from Dao informs our everyday living. Every trouble, every conflict, all turmoil, is an occasion to realize more tranquility. Tranquility arises, not from the attempted abolition of conflict, but from understanding its necessity as part of life, adding it to the string (as it were), and thereby embracing it. Thus, “every enslavement is also an ennobling”. (2:41)

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

BP - CVS Proves "Big Government" Is Working

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ziporyn on Yin-Yang VIII: Yin Within

Scott Bradley

With reference to the curious interpretation of trigrams according to their minority component (two Yangs and one Yin makes a "Yin trigram", while two Yins and one Yang makes a "Yang trigram") Ziporyn quotes the Warring States document The Great Commentary (I think), a "wing" of the Zhouyi: "Situations quantitatively dominated by receptivity or subservience [those exemplified by Yin trigrams], the responsiveness that brings things to completion, may nonetheless holistically function as active and creative [Yang], as actively initiating new existences." The point is, I think, that Yang works because Yin provides the 'space' for it to do so. Yin calls forth Yang. Thus, Yang transforms in the presence of Yin.

Keeping this in mind, we might profitably revisit that pivotal passage in the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi where "fasting of the heart/mind" is described as "listening with qi". Qi, we are told is "an emptiness, a waiting for the presence of beings." (4:9) (Qi can and does mean many things throughout Chinese philosophy, but we need only concern ourselves at the moment with what it means for Zhuangzi here, namely "emptiness".) And this, it seems to me, corresponds to Yin. Thus, we can say, find the Yin within.

Nearly all, if not all, of our human activity, being human, can be described as Yang. This is exercising our existence as beings, and can hardly be dismissed as unnecessary or misguided. But there is, as we all know, a hollowness, an emptiness, at the heart of us all. We require a grounding and assurances, that are not forthcoming. Rather than casting about for definitive stand-ins for these in the form of 'answers' (God, Universal Self, The Ground of Being, etc.), Zhuangzi suggests we make use of the emptiness itself. To do so, the passage goes on to tell us, is to allow the rug to be pulled out from under our most precious 'possession', or sense of being a self. It is to allow that our self "has yet to begin to exist". It's trying, but it cannot. It cannot because our Yang is embedded in Yin; it is always a becoming and is never an 'is'. Taking this onboard, living this, we wander.

The context of this passage, it is important to remember, concerns how to affect political reform. "Taking the mind as one's teacher", forging ahead as Yang, will be of little use, and may even get us killed. Reconnecting with one's inner Yin, on the other hand, allows one to follow along with the target Yang as the Yin necessary to allow it to change. Zhuangzi suggests we be qi/emptiness/Yin to the Yang we wish to see transformed, just as finding our own has transformed us. The point is to be that 'space' that invites change, not another 'being' wishing to displace another 'being'.

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