We are considering Zhuangzi’s concluding statement concerning the nature of one who has realized non-dependence: “Thus I say, the Consummate Person has no fixed-identity, the Spirit Man has no particular merit, the Sage has no name” (Ziporyn, p 6).

This juxtaposition of non-dependence and the self-emptiness of the sage leads us to conclude that for Zhuangzi the concept of non-dependence is pivotal to his vision. Ultimately, not being dependent on being somebody is at the heart of sagacity. “Just be empty—nothing more.”

What makes this a particularly helpful correspondence is that we have arrived here through self-inquiry; this is concretely about how we go about being in the world. Zhuangzi takes us through three manifestations of dependence as a self-reifying project. We are invited to discover these in ourselves. Though understanding what we are about does not automatically make us otherwise, it does nonetheless provide us with a bit of transcendent space to envision an alternative. This space, I would maintain, is also that in which we can wander. There may be a greater wandering, but it’s nice to have this lesser and more realistic wandering in any case. If sagacity corresponds to adulthood, there is no reason to disparage the realization of adolescence. Humanity typically does not get even that far.

One of the things that can happen in this space is laughter. The ability to laugh at oneself is a sure sign of some degree of transcendence. One recently “enlightened” Zennist declares, “All that’s left is to have a good laugh.” This may well be laughing at the need to even laugh at oneself, but we have to start somewhere. I don’t know what “the Laughing Buddha” is laughing about, but I suspect her laughter is of the same genus as any other mirthful laughter.

We are suggesting that one method for approximatingly realizing sagacity is self-inquiry. Whatever other methods one might use, this one seems indispensable. If one does not become a buddha by trying to be a buddha, then understanding how one is trying to become a buddha seems necessary. It is also likely that so much of the hypocrisy, so much of the judgmentalism of the self-designated or aspiring “spiritual” ones is a consequence of a lack of self-knowledge. We should, of course, be able to laugh at and about them (rather than condemning them), but can only do so wisely when we are also laughing at and about ourselves.

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