Robert Miller (Buddhist Existentialism) offers seven attributes of existentialism that he sees as compatible with Buddhist sympathies. The first of these is the orientation posited by Sartre that “existence precedes essence”. Since Plato, who thought that everything is what it is by virtue of its participation in and reflection of an Ideal, the Essential, this point of view has held sway. Everything is anchored and secure in the Ideal, Truth, God. Even empirical science defines things on the basis of their participation in a generalized class. You are human because you belong to the species Homo sapiens, not because you make yourself human.

Turning this on its head and declaring that existence, our experience, is really all we know robs life of all presupposed meaning. If there is meaning, it is that which we make for ourselves. There is only this experience as a becoming, or as Zhuangzi would say, a ceaseless transforming. This amounts to the experience of emptiness. There is nothing there to grasp though there seems to be a tentative something there that wishes to do so. It is also a kind of openness. It is not “I” that is open to things outside myself, but the “I” itself that is an openness. It is open in every direction and in every way.

There is freedom here. But freedom always has its price. It is dizzying. Scary. And it’s likely not for everyone. If it were, we’d be back at declaring the essence of things—what we should do.

Zhuangzi’s sage chooses freedom. “Thus, the Radiance of drift and doubt is the sage’s only map.”  She identifies with transformation. She lets her self be its unfixed self. In this way she wanders. She fully engages in the life experience just as it manifests, just as she likes.

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