UNDER HEAVEN XLIV

The Tianxia has much to say of Laozi and Guan Yin that can be taken as in agreement with the philosophy of Zhuangzi, and which helps us to better understand his vision.

“Externally, they had the appearance of pliant weakness and self-deprecating humility. Internally, it was the empty void that leaves all things unharmed which was their firmest reality.” (p 123)

Here my favorite passage from Thomas Merton’s adaptation (The Way of Chuang Tzu) comes to mind:

Who can free himself from achievement

And fame, descend and be lost

Amid the masses of men?

He will flow like Dao, unseen.

He will go about like life itself

With no name and no home.

Any discussion of Dao is inseparable from a discussion of how to be in the world. The point is to be Dao-like. “Dao is empty, yet it never runs dry.” (Laozi 4)

The inner “empty void” is neither imagined nor created; if it isn’t already there as our core experience, then we needn’t add it. But it is, and this is a way to make it useful.

Leaving “all things unharmed” speaks to the giving which is Dao. This is “subtle”. The giving of Dao is in that since it is simply the arising of all things—not their Creator— it neither possesses nor coerces them. (Laozi 37) All things are simply left to be themselves.

“The dao of Heaven benefits and does not harm. The dao of the sage is for others and does not contend.” (Laozi 81)

This is more than just not harming them, but also the most efficient way of helping them. “Who can be together in their very not being together, do things for one another by not doing things for one another?” (6:45) It is not simply being absent, but being present as an absence. It is non-being the change. It is being useful in one’s apparent uselessness.

This is all very “subtle” indeed and probably beyond our capabilities. Its contribution to our actual living is thus by way of dialectically informing our helping. Wu-wei can inform our wei-ing. We are it seems inveterate wei-ers; something that our being-in-a-world would seem to require.

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