A DAOIST EXISTENTIALISM VII

Does existentialism allow for mysticism? It’s been so long since I have read the work of existentialists that I can only say I have a vague memory that there are some who do. Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” could be taken as an invitation to mystical experience. But this, like every form of existentialist mysticism does not fall within the usual definitions of that term. Though Kierkegaard was a theist, no “leap” would have been necessary if he did not see the need to break through the threshold of rationalism, and the consequence of this leap is subjective, not objective truth.

Typically, mysticism is understood as some sort of union or communion with the Absolute. Existentialism knows of no such thing. Its mysticism must therefore be an opening up into not-knowing, into emptiness. This, in fact, is at the heart of Miller’s case for a Buddhist existentialism. He explores the meaning and ramifications of shunyata, emptiness, and discovers that this is precisely what the skepticism of existentialism invites. There are no “answers”; there are no “cures”. It’s all Mystery. This is emptiness. No cognitive formulae are allowed here.

Emptiness is not just a description of how the “world” presents; it is also a practice. It is the continual act of voiding our tendency to make cognitive sense of things, to seek a firm and objective ground that affirms our hunger to be the same, fixed and sure. This activity is mysticism in that it is the abandonment of the knowing-mind in favor of release into Mystery. Mysticism entails experiencing “something”, and that’s what this activity enables.

This, at my reading, is precisely that for which Zhuangzi advocates. Release yourself into Mystery. Wander in not-knowing. Be how life is. Transient. Unfixed. Empty.

Though scholars and interpreters of Zhuangzi never tire of telling us that he advocated for “union with the Dao”, nothing, in my opinion, could be further from the truth. This mostly comes from lumping him into a generalized understanding of “Daoism”, and, quite frankly, an unwillingness to engage in the spirit of Zhuangzi himself.

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