UNDER HEAVEN XLV

“Guan Yin said, ‘When nothing dwells within yourself, the forms of all things manifest in you naturally. In motion be like water, in stillness like a mirror, in responding like an echo.’” (p 123)

As previously mentioned, Guan Yin appears to be an entirely fictional character. Unlike Zhuangzi, this author’s orientation obliges him to stick to historical fact—so where does this quote come from? We can only presume that quotes from “him” were part of the same anonymous mix that became the Laozi, ostensibly the words of the legendary Laozi.

It is also likely that the author was often only making his best attempt to provide an interpretive representation of the sayings of these philosophers, rather than quoting them directly. Realizing this helps us to remember that we are not trying to reconstruct the philosophies of any of these philosophers, but are rather simply considering these ideas on their own merits. Their disembodiment frees us to use them to build our own (hopefully) vacuous daos.

Yes, vacuous.

The first line of this quote is really quite profound. As with Dao, emptiness amounts to fullness. Full of what? Everything. This is the all-embracing—not as a kind of containment, but as an open, limitless space. Being empty of a fixed-self creates a great openness into which all things can come and dwell. A fixed-self is yang—it displaces. No-fixed-self is yin—it draws in and welcomes.

And let us not forget there is room and welcome here for a self as well—even for that great bugaboo, the fixed-self. Thankfully so, since only then can we have any dialectical purchase by which to approximate the ideal.

So why would we want to be occupied by everything? Well, for one thing, this is equivalent to “hiding the world in the world” wherein there is no place for us to get lost. And fear of our own loss is a very real psychological reality, whether we like it or no. It’s part of the mess.

Then there is the cosmo-centrism, the universal caring, that such an experience helps facilitate. Though ethical concerns are not Daoism’s primary motivation, they are, nonetheless, a very real consequence of its mystical vision. Then too, Daoism neither flees nor subordinates a concern for our personal and collective flourishing. And our collective (human) flourishing, as we have come to realize most painfully, is inseparable from environmental flourishing.

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