UNDER HEAVEN LXI

“He may be said to have attuned himself to whatever he encountered, thereby arriving up beyond them to the source of things. Even so, he was able to respond to every transformation, and thus [his writings] have a liberating effect on all creatures.” (p 124)

I have suggested that attuning oneself to what we encounter is creating a harmony. It is a response. It is not to remain oblivious to the ceaselessly arising circumstances of our experience, but to respond to them in a certain way. To be unaffected by circumstances—whether considered beneficial or harmful—requires engagement with them.

For the moment, I’d like to focus on just this. There is the question of what it means to harmonize with circumstances, but it is significant in itself that this is an activity. We are in a world; we are a being-in-a-world. Absent the “world” of our own imaginative making and there would be no “us”, no “me”. Take away the context and there is no text. “I” am a relationship, not only with my “me”, but also with everything else. Without an “other” there is no self-experience.

So what? So being sagacious is a relational activity, just as being human is such an activity. The hypothetical sage is as involved with the world as anyone else.

The difference is that she is not as entangled in the Great Tangle as everyone else. Zhuangzi takes a look at right and wrong and determines that they are hopelessly tangled up (2:39); living one’s life in subservience to them is to be entangled in them.

Entanglement is a psychological condition. Our “world” is largely of our own making. There is benefit in taking the world as objectively real—out there as we see and interpret it—but it is also beneficial to  remember that this is a chosen perspective—every point of view is a chosen point of view. And we cannot exist without one.

It would be convenient if there were a fixed and sure point of view—that there is a “real” objective world, for instance—which is why we tend to uncritically default to one. But there is none that we can know for sure.

Our entanglement is thus a chosen condition. The Daoist vision can be seen as an invitation to become disentangled. “Loosen the tangles.” (Laozi 56)

To be disentangled is to remain engaged with the “world” while not taking it so seriously as to take our point of view as if it were a “sworn oath”. (2:7) Then we can engage with an anger that is not-anger; a happiness that is not-happiness (not dependent on circumstances which inseparably links it to its opposite); a hope that is not-hope; a seriousness that is not serious.

Again, it’s like playing a game—taking it seriously is what makes it fun; taking it too seriously is what destroys the fun. Or, it’s like watching a movie—we enjoy getting caught up in the drama, but also must remember that it’s just a movie.

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