Monday, February 17, 2014

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.

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