UNDER HEAVEN XXXIX

“Let freedom from desire be your sustaining guide; thus will you see what is subtle. Let having desires be your sustaining guide; thus will you see what is manifest. These two arise from the same source though they have different names. Together they are Mystery. Mystery within Mystery—this is the gate into all that is subtle.” (Laozi 1)

I have suggested that this point of view is quite the contrary of the Tianxia’s representation of Laozi as “regarding the hidden root as the finest quintessence and its manifest reifications as the cruder part . . .” (p 122)

This has to do with the familiar “the Heavenly” versus the human debate. It would be great, Zhuangzi tells us, if Heaven could unambiguously guide us, but it cannot. In the end, we must let the two inform one another while not allowing either to subordinate the other. Here again we see the importance of walking two roads simultaneously. But this can be done only as in a perpetual condition of inherent ambiguity—“drift and doubt”. These two roads can never completely converge. The only resolution to this “problem” is to require no resolution.

The “subtle” (heavenly, “spiritual”) and the “manifest” (things) are both the same and different. They are different in that they have different names. To identify them is to divide and separate them. This is the nature of the words that we cannot do without.

There is original Chaos. The compromise of Chaos does not come with the creation of things, but from the naming of things. Absent the mind and all returns to Chaos. From the human point of view, however, the compromise of Chaos has as much value as Chaos—they have equal validity.

Indeed, every single thing or event, including Chaos itself, no matter how “absolute” or ephemeral and transitory, explains everything else, is everything else, is the Center of all things. All things are the Center. This is Ziporyn’s omnicentrism and, I think, the inevitable conclusion to Zhuangzi’s sense of oneness as expressed in the uniqueness of each thing. (cf. Ziqi’s metaphor of the wind and the trees; 2:1-5)

There is no room here for an ultimate distinction to be made between “the subtle” and “the manifest”. This is the unnamably subtle.

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