UNDER HEAVEN XLI

We are told that Laozi “took the cords of restraint [as] his regulating thread.” (p 123) But if Laozi actually lived his philosophy (which is highly unlikely) then he did no such thing. This would not be wuwei, but wei. It would be forgetting the second part of his suggestions regarding desire:

“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.” (Laozi 1)

But how do we both have and not-have desires? Zhuangzi, I think, hit on an essential attribute that facilitates this possibility: non-dependence.

If I fall ill, I naturally desire to get well. If, however, I do not recover, my inner peace is not disturbed since that peace does not depend on getting well. I have “handed it all over to the unavoidable”. And I can do this because I have “hidden the world in the world”, which is to say that I have so completely identified with the Great Happening that there’s nowhere left to be lost. Whatever Happens is good. If health is good, then so too is ill-health. If my life is good, then so too is my death.

All is well in the Great Mess. The Tianxia seems to believe Laozi came to a similar conclusion: “Somehow or other it will work out all right.” This is said in the context of his relationship with desire: “Everyone else sought to get what they wanted, but he found completeness in the indirect twists and turns [of life].” There is completeness in all eventualities, because, in the “vastest arrangement”, nothing can be other than complete.

In the view from Dao it will not, of course, “work out all right”, because there was never anything not already so. From the human point of view, however, this psychological movement—the adoption of a point of view—seems necessary. Our sense of the not-rightness of some things is not obviated by our understanding of their ultimate rightness. Our movement between the two creates the ambiguity of “neither of the two” (=Penumbra; cf. 2:47-8 and note 36).

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