CIRCUMSTANCE AND OPPORTUNITY X

“Let yourself be carried along by things so that the mind wanders freely. Hand it all over to the unavoidable so as to nourish what is central within you. This is the most you can do” (Zhuangzi 4:16; Ziporyn).


This morsel is found in “Confucius’” instructions to his disciple Yan regarding how to deal with a despotic ruler. Viewed from the side of volition, nearly everything this ruler has done was avoidable. However, this is no longer the case. It is done. It is now an unavoidable circumstance, though it might be ameliorated.


We have been considering the two greatest unavoidables we face, life and death. There are others—our inescapable existential dangle being chief among them. This is our inherent not-knowing while “needing” to know, our hunger for purpose where none can be found, and our desire for a continuity of identity where none can be seen to exist. Now we will consider those unavoidables that were previously avoidable but no longer are.


In many respects this species of the unavoidable offers an even more challenging opportunity for self-cultivation than does the former. Though we might rail against “heaven” for the necessary conditions of our existence, we could only do so as fully aware of the absurdity of the act. Our rebellion thus typically takes other, more subtle forms—principally religiously-minded forms that white-wash (purpose-wash) an otherwise uncompromising silence. What another mere mortal has brought about is likely to elicit an altogether different kind of response, however.


What someone does to me, directly or to others with whom I identify (hopefully everyone), or to the planet and its many life-forms with which I identify (hopefully)—this is likely to bring forth a whole different level of raw emotional responses. This is personal, damn it.


This is the everyday stuff of life. This is where the rubber meets the road. And this is where we find innumerable opportunities to imagine the peace of not taking offense at what is undeniably offensive.

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