Zhuangzi thinks it is important to squarely face our experience of the absence of any knowable First Cause, Dao, or Source. Positing a Something that makes sense of life is giving the mind priority over our existential experience. And this is an act of “bad-faith”, a flight from our own humanity. It sets us a path of inauthentic living. Where life as it has evolved in us seems to require mechanisms for coping, however, even this inauthenticity has its advantages. Belief is a powerful opiate, and we are in no position to deny people what they have chosen for the alleviation of their pain. Zhuangzi’s vision is simply for an alternative response to the life-experience, one that he believes leads to a greater enjoyment of life.

Zhuangzi is far from being an atheist. How could he possibly take such an absolutist position? We might call him an agnostic, but this still suggests an abiding in the realm of gnosis, knowing. His not-knowing is not about epistemology, but serves as a point of departure into a more immediate and primal experience of life. His agnosticism has wings. His flight is into Openness. And Openness allows life to freely flow in us as the whatever-it-is.

Such an experience is what he calls the Numinous Reservoir, the inexplicable experience of the self-arising of life within us. “That is what allows the joy of its harmony to open into all things without thereby losing its fullness, what keeps it flowing on day and night without cease, taking part everywhere as the springtime of each being. Connecting up with This, your mind becomes the site of the life-giving time” (5:16; Ziporyn). (Rather than attempting to parse and explain this incredible passage, we will just leave it with the reader.)

The importance of not-knowing-with-wings is seen here: “Hence, when the understanding consciousness comes to rest in what it does not know, it has reached its utmost. The demonstration that uses no words, the Dao that is not a dao—who ‘understands’ these things? If there is something that ‘understands’ them, it can be called the Heavenly Reservoir—poured into without ever getting full, ladled out without ever running out, ever not-knowing its own source” (2:36; Ziporyn, with some tweaking). Not-knowing is Openness.

This is being self-so; letting oneself happen, and in that letting, letting all things happen in others as in oneself. Thus, we see that it is not really about a cosmological explanation of origins at all, but simply being ourselves.

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