CIRCUMSTANCE AND OPPORTUNITY II

Translating ming as “circumstance” rather than as the more common “fate”, or even “destiny”, has the advantage of avoiding two misunderstandings which are decidedly not part of the Daoist worldview—purpose and fatalism. From the point of view of Daoism, nothing happens (exists) for a reason. Nor did anything that has happened have to happen.


Neither of these negations is intended as a definitive assertion of the contrary, but simply returns us to the real experience of our existential not-knowing. Perhaps there is a divine plan, and maybe everything is pre-determined. Who knows? The point is to authentically live in harmony with our actual experience.


The hunger for things to have a purpose is one of our strongest yearnings. Why are we here? Or vastly more importantly, why am I here? For this reason, religiously-minded formulae typically promise to reveal our “true purpose”. This serves to reify us as a forever someone completely integrated into a cosmic Plan. What a relief. What could be better? Since we clearly need comforting, why would we want to disabuse those of what comfort they find here? Would we snatch a teddy bear from a child because it is not “real”?


Let me be honest and admit that this present project is in many respects my own teddy bear. For this reason I call my blabberings a philosophy of cope. In my defense, I would point out that it is awareness of the fact that makes all the difference. The trajectory toward authenticity (sagacity) is in any case, as I repeatedly aver, an open-ended and messy business.


Since our yearning for purpose is so strong we might ask if it is not therefore “innate”. By Daoist reckoning, if it’s innate, it is to be affirmed and nurtured. I make the case for self-flourishing (which is inseparable from universal-flourishing) as the highest good, because it is innate to life. Life is the élan of self-flourishing. It needs no justification; nor can any be found. Can we say the same for the yearning for purpose? Should we encourage it rather than question it? This is an important question because it helps illuminate the frontlines of Zhuangzi’s fight for greater authenticity against those inclinations that contribute to the contrary. I will leave this issue for the next post.

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