A DAOIST EXISTENTIALISM VI

When existence precedes essence nothing is prescribed, nothing is mandated. We are free to choose our own dao, our own response to life. This is why there is such diversity in existentialist expressions. Some of these have been decidedly negative. Life has no essential meaning, and since we naturally hunger for meaning, life is absurd. According to Camus, our most pressing question is, Why not commit suicide? But this, to my thinking, remains squarely within the rationalist mentality; because life does not make “sense”, it fails of value.

It was to precisely this that Zhuangzi sought to offer an alternative. Rather than “taking our mind as our teacher”, he suggested, why not rather surrender into life as it manifests? Life wants to live and flourish. In the human case, it wants to enjoy itself. So, why not completely identify with this élan and be that flow of life?

Still, there remains Unamuno’s “tragic sense of life”. Suffering, death, and loss still loom large as very real experiences for self-aware beings. The Zhuangzian response is not to deny and repress them, but to acknowledge and make active use of them. Our release into the Great Happening is facilitated by our need to do so. “Handing it all over to the unavoidable” is an active reply to these very same vicissitudes. ”Becoming one with Transformation” is a continual response to the fear of death.

The point is that a Zhuangzian existentialism is always engaged in these responses. Indeed, it is this engagement. We can imagine the hypothetical sage who has arrived beyond the need to so engage—and Zhuangzi does—but to remain authentic and true to our experience we must understanding that the work we do now is our dao.

Zhuangzian existentialism is not the “cure” for our ailments; it is simply a means to make good use of them.

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