A NEW PHILOSOPHICAL DAOISM XI

One of the most evocative metaphors that Zhuangzi uses to suggest releasing ourselves into Mystery is “hiding the world in the world”. If we hide our boat in a swamp, someone will eventually come along and steal it. There was somewhere into which the boat could be lost—somewhere out there in the broader world. But what if we were to hide our boat in the whole world? Where then could it be lost? Hiding the world in the world is hiding not only our boat, but also everything else, including our most precious selves, in the greater world (Mystery) where nothing can be lost.

Zhuangzi uses this metaphor in the context of our fear of death, the apparent loss of ourselves. If, instead of clinging to this particular identity, we release ourselves into the apparently ceaseless transformation of all identities, release into Transformation, where is there any room for us to be lost? This obviously requires loosening our grip on our self-identity. Just as we must be willing to “lose” the boat in order to never lose it, so also must we “lose” ourselves so as to have nothing to lose.

This, I think, is primarily what Zhuangzi has in mind when he entreats us to “just be empty, nothing more”. To be empty is to have no-fixed-identity. It is to enjoy our present identity as part of the larger context wherein all identities are forever transforming.

Is this simply a ploy, an intellectual and palliative sleight of hand designed to ease our passing? For the most part, I think it is. It is essentially a psychological strategy for coping with the existential dangle—our ever not-knowing despite our hunger for the same—of our inherent experience. However, given our point of departure that all is Mystery, such a strategy seems both intellectually and existentially honest. We must remember that none of this is about the “truth” of things, but only always about our experience of things. Such is life.

Still, this is more than just an intellectual exercise; there is mysticism involved here; and this entails transformative experience. Nice things happen when we release into Mystery. Thankfulness happens. (And thankfulness feels good.) Tranquility happens. (Of which I can at least testify to some fleeting approximation—let’s not get all absolutist and silly, not to mention dishonest.)

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