UNDER HEAVEN LVIII

“He opened himself broadly to the vastness at the root of things, abandoning himself to it even unto the very depths.” (p 124)

This is it. The whole enchilada.

This observation can be taken as summing up the entirety of Zhuangzi’s mysticism. It describes a movement both incredibly profound and amazingly simple. There is nothing here to know, believe or achieve; it is all always right here, in every direction, everywhere we turn—vast Mystery. It is our very own self-experience.

I have called this movement “surrender in trust”. It is surrender—or perhaps more positively, “release”—into our most fundamental human experience. The mystery of ourselves is no different than the Mystery that is this vastness. Live this; live your humanity. Say “Yes”. Thankfulness arises.

“He opened himself.” There is an exercise of choice here. We are aware of our existential dangle—our suspension over a void. How do we respond? However we like. Zhuangzi suggests this way as the most authentic and the most life- and world-affirming.

There are a multitude of responses possible, but we can suggest four broad kinds. There is ignore-ance; a lack of the awareness that would lead us to seriously consider our human condition. There is belief; an artificial filling of the void. There is rebellion; saying, “No, goddamnit, I will stand against the Universe.” And there is release in trust; saying, “Yes, thank you.”

Whatever our response, it doesn’t matter all that much. No ultimate outcomes lie in the balance. Nothing can be gained or lost. This, at least, is the view from Dao—Zhuangzi’s pan-affirmation—his fundamental trust in the “goodness” of the unavoidable.

Thus the only real value resides in temporal outcomes: what works best—what makes for the most enjoyment of life; and this can only be determined from within whatever response one has chosen.

But does one truly choose? One must be free to choose; and volitional freedom is an elusive creature. It is also one most of us assiduously attempt to avoid since it means “standing right at the mouth of the great furnace”. (Fang Yizhi, commenting on 6:57—“This must be what is called Fate, eh?”; p 205) Such freedom mostly only befalls us by way of history, culture, personality and circumstance.

Freedom to choose is likely not chosen, but when present leaves little choice but to choose.

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