I WANT TO BE A SAGE XIII

“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).


Just as we can take these three as one “person”, so too can we take these three attributes as reflecting one experience. I will conclude this series with a few reflections on what these attributes can tell us.


Most translators have “no self” for “no fixed-identity”. This may be more literal, but I think Ziporyn’s reading better captures Zhuangzi’s sense. Identity there is, only it is not fixed; self there is, but it is not reified; it is not clung to as to some thing with which to identify. ‘Sometimes he sees himself as a horse, sometimes as a cow.” “Now a snake, now a dragon.” The fluidity of identity is essential to Zhuangzi’s understanding of how things manifest. The cosmos presents as endless transformation, and identifying with that rather than one’s present identity releases one to flow with change. This, too, is his answer to the fear of death.


However we take “no self”, it is important to remember that Zhuangzi is never about negating anything of the human experience. If there were a concrete self to negate, he would not attempt to negate it. He rather sees “self” as a relationship; “I” has its counterpart in “me”. This relationship is mutable, and he suggests one that makes for a happier and more carefree experience. He suggests we release our grip on “me”. What remains is not just self, but lots more self, a self that identifies with everything. Why be a frightened and pathetic “me”, when you can be everything?


We have not left the realm of a mutable relationship, however. We have not suddenly morphed into a fixed cosmic Self. A great “I AM” is no more suggested than is a concrete and fixed identity. It’s still just a way of imagining the world. That’s the best we can do.

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