Sunday, February 23, 2014

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.

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