CIRCUMSTANCE AND OPPORTUNITY I

[Though I continue to work on As the Cookie Crumbles, the shared installments on this blog often seemed a bit too truncated and tedious for this format. I may, however, share selected portions in the future.]


I’m re-reading Steve Coutinho’s An Introduction to Daoist Philosophies, which I highly recommend. So many “introductions” start off with wrong-footed presuppositions that one that does not is refreshingly helpful even if necessarily cursory.


The word ming is typically translated as “fate” or “destiny”, both of which can be taken to imply something quite different from Zhuangzi’s meaning. Coutinho suggests “circumstance”, a more neutral term that avoids the ill-fitting connotations of the former.


“Circumstance” is a concept of critical importance to Zhuangzian “Daoism”. It speaks to the “unavoidable” that surrounds and permeates our every existential moment. This constitutes our interface with the world as we experience it, and is thus relational. Circumstance is more than simply the objective conditions of life; it is also the manner in which we interact with them. This being the case, every circumstance is an opportunity to nurture our experience of life—to further realize its potential flourishing.


Coutinho quotes Zhuangzi in this regard: “To tend to your heart-mind so that sadness and joy do not sway or move it; to understand what you can do nothing about and to rest content in it as Circumstance, this is the height of potency” (Watson, p 60, with amendment).


In this series I hope to explore this pivotal activity in some depth. We might start by seeing that it is in fact an activity. It is work. Ideally, it would be no such thing in having been already fully accomplished, but we are not sages and thus have work to do. This is self-cultivation.


Though it can seem tediously repetitive, always it seems necessary to also suggest that we step back off the narrow road of human self-involvement and onto the road of a more cosmic perspective. Self-cultivation is best accomplished in the light of its being ultimately unnecessary. This is likely a condition for wuwei, doing not-doing. We are perfect by virtue of our being perfectly who we are, just as we are—an absolutely unavoidable cosmic circumstance. There are no conditions we are required to meet. All is well. Now that we have realized that we are perfect, we can get to work on getting “better”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *