UNDER HEAVEN V

There is an Original Dao, the single and true guiding Dao that was practiced by the ancients. But it has been so obscured that now it is only represented in splinters through the philosophies of mere “nook and cranny scholars”. No one understands this Dao in its wholeness, except, presumably, the author of Tianxia.

One can easily imagine this particular scholar in attendance at the Jixia Academy surrounded by so many diverse opinions about the best guiding dao, attempting to synthesize and transcend the lot.

All these diverse opinions, all this sectarianism, all these denominations—surely there must be a single truth that unites them all. Let us then create the denomination that ends all denominations.

Or let us appeal to a religion that, like an amoeba, can absorb every other religion, though it co-opts and destroys them in the process. Let us destroy the many in favor of our particular version of the One.

All opinions about the nature of things are equal in this: They exclude. They draw a cognitive circle the outside of which must be forgotten. Something is always left out. And that, Zhuangzi tells us, by its very exclusion, becomes the most important thing of all.

“What is it?” asks Zhuangzi. “The sage hides it in her heart” and does not say. It cannot be said. It is contentless; it is emptiness—openness.

Is this the true Dao? No, it’s just another dao. But though dao-less-ness is impossible we are still free to choose the one we deem best contributes to our flourishing, and that, presumably, is one that harmonizes with our actual experience.

“Just be empty”, exhorts Zhuangzi—because experience suggests you already are.

2 thoughts on “UNDER HEAVEN V”

  1. Regarding “All opinions about the nature of things are equal in this: They exclude. They draw a cognitive circle the outside of which must be forgotten. Something is always left out. And that, Zhuangzi tells us, by its very exclusion, becomes the most important thing of all.”

    In the early 1990’s I stumbled on a very curiously titled book: “God and Plastic Surgery: Marx, Nietzsche Freud and the Obvious” which demonstrated a very similar if not identical thought to the “All opinions…” quote above. Reading it, it immediately struck me as being on the right track. Though written by an academic philosopher, it is more art than philosophy (Amazon.com description: “Something like equal parts Gertrude Stein and Wittgenstein”), and *its actual writing method/logic* demonstrates Zhuangzi’s point that all opinions exclude other possibilities, which then, by the very nature of their exclusion, become the most important possibilities. It’s not a dry, ho-hum philosophy book that explains all these things explicitly, but rather a book that embodies these ideas in its writing style and choice of subject matter. The “obvious” in the subtitle kind of gives it away and, curiously, connects it with Zhuangzi. Anyway, the book is still hard to understand, a real head-scratcher, but it remains one of the pivotal texts of my intellectual development, such as it is. Funny how a so-called “postmodern” philosophy book is so in line with Zhuangzi.

    1. I’ve forwarded your comment to a friend who’s passion is very much about making use of this insight in concrete political action. (I mostly just get mad.)

      Yes, it is amazing how relevant Zz is to the state of our thinking today. Maybe because what was obvious then is no less so today. It is, after all, simply an honest appraisal of our human condition.

      Thanks for the interaction.

      Scott

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