WALKING TWO ROADS III

The question of the relationship between the “Heavenly” and the Human is an important one to early Daoist philosophy, and there are decidedly different takes on the issue. We might best begin by getting an idea of what Zhuangzi means by the term “Heavenly” since it carries a lot of culture baggage in our present context. For him it simply refers to the inescapably unknowable Mystery of origins and “purpose” that the human mind seems to require. Originally, the term had more theistic, or at least volitional implications, as it might for us today, but in Chinese thought it evolved toward a more Zhuangzian point of view, though his tended to the extreme end, namely that it is only present as an absence and without cognitive content.

Since for Zhuangzi the Heavenly is an entirely ambiguous concept the relationship between it and Humanity is similarly ambiguous. It is unknowable. Humanity is itself therefore unknowable. Humanity is as much Mystery as Mystery.

The importance of this relationship is determined by our desire for guidance, a dao. Can Heaven guide us? In a radical departure from conventional thought, Chapter One of the Laozi declares that it cannot. Any dao that daos (guides) is not the authentic Dao. Yet daos unavoidably remain, and can be affirmed as necessary. They are themselves mystery (given their ultimate groundlessness) and can therefore be taken as “the same” as the Mysterious Dao.

For some this might have suggested the abandonment of the Heavenly (Dao) altogether, but for Daoism it means that we can only “understand” ourselves in the context of Mystery. This represents a momentous movement into the realm of ambiguity, of not-knowing, that Zhuangzi fully embraces and to and by which he makes a creative response. This is making the useless the most useful thing of all.

Walking Two Roads can be understood as the practical application of this relationship between the Heavenly and the Human. All that we do upon the human road is done in an awareness of the implications of the heavenly road, which he takes as equalizing in its indeterminacy.

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