ON BEING SELF-SO (ZIRAN) VI

Lift your hand and you’ll likely see its shadow. Imagine it as just as “real”, substantial and free as your hand. Stand in the sunlight and consider that sense in which your shadow is as real and free as you are. (“Seen from the point of view of their sameness, all things are one.”) Our reluctance to do so is precisely what’s happening in the story of Penumbra questioning the self-arising of the shadow of which it is the shadow, only in the reverse.


We think of our shadow as utterly dependent upon our own existence and activities. It disappears the moment we step into the shade. It sits when we sit and stands when we stand. Nothing could be more obviously the case. But our shadow might laugh and ask of us how we are any different. How are we any less dependent? Do we not also depend upon an infinite number of conditions in order to exist? Do we know why we do what we do—truly? How are we any less ephemeral? Does duration make a difference? Is the tree Mingling that lives for thousands of years less ephemeral than the morning mushroom that knows nothing of the afternoon? (“No one lives longer than a dead child”.) From the point of view of our shadow, we are essentially the same.


Only in Zhuangzi’s story, Penumbra, like ourselves, assumes its own independence while questioning that of Shadow of which it is the shadow. Where things are united to form a oneness (the imaginative exercise of dao-izing the world), all opposites become reversible. (“Not-One is also One”.) Penumbra is fully aware of its own transcendent self-arising—sits when it wants to sit, stands when it wants to stand—but wonders about that of Shadow. The standing and sitting human being, who does not even merit a mention despite our thinking it the prime mover, must be utterly determined, dependent and inconsequential. Yet, “Reversal is the movement of the Dao”—dao-ing is the ability to reverse and to thereby “unite to form a oneness”. Thus, even the human being is as self-so as the shadow of its shadow.


Ziporyn has suggested that Zhuangzi sees all things as having a point of view. If we insist that this requires self-awareness, then this makes no sense at all. But if we grant things their own self-so emergence, their own inexplicable self-arising happening, then we are obliged to grant them that which we assign to ourselves. Having self-arisen, all things that “are” “seek” to continue to “be”. “Each selects out its own [way].”


So what? We explore this in the next post.

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