Though we might understand the equality of all things and engage in a cosmo-centric caring, still there remains a hierarchy of caring. One’s self-flourishing trumps the flourishing of the food on one’s plate. Our need for shelter trumps the need of the tree to fully live out its years.

As always, we are cast into ambiguity. We have not arrived at a pat formula by which we can live in the simple application of a principle. We must make informed choices; though the wisdom of no choice is guaranteed. Yet wisdom it is that is required.

Some of that wisdom is an appreciation of simplicity. What do we actually need? What can be legitimately sacrificed to those needs? The mega-yacht, personal airliner, or even luxury car, is a choice to ignore the needs of others for the ego-centric pleasure of conspicuous consumption, is it not?

Though extreme in their position, the so-called Primitivist Chapters of the Zhuangzi (8-11a) speak to the destruction of things for the sake of ego-and species-centrism. “Unless the white jade is broken, what can be made into the ritual scepters and batons? . . . The mutilation of the unhewn raw material to make valued vessels is the crime of the skilled carpenter.” (9; p 62)

If this is so, then we are all criminals. Yet such a criminality is an unavoidable attribute of the existence of any one thing. In this regard it is helpful to remember Zhuangzi’s equalizing unification of formation and destruction: “Whenever fragmentation is going on, formation, completion, is also going on. Whenever formation is going on, destruction is also going on. Hence, all things are neither formed nor destroyed, for these two also open into each other, connecting to form a oneness.” (2:21-2) Ultimately, nothing is lost. We need fear no prosecution.

This required wisdom is much more than practical knowledge: “Much wisdom in the use of traps, nets, snares, and lattices throws the beasts of the woodlands into disorder. . . . Thus it is that each and every great disorder of the world is caused by the love of wisdom.” (10; p 65)

Yet, there is a “wisdom that is free of wisdom” (4:30); it is the wisdom that questions itself: “Everyone in the world knows how to raise questions about what they don’t know, but none know how to raise questions about what they already know. Everyone knows enough to reject what they consider bad, but not enough to reject what they consider good. This is the reason for the great disorder, which violates the brightness of the sun and moon above and melts away the vital essence of the mountains and rivers below, toppling the ordered succession of the four seasons in between.” (10; p 66)

A prophetic word to be sure.

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