YANG ZHU II

 

Graham suggests that it would be best to focus on the teachings of a “Yangist” School rather than on those of one man, Yang Zhu. History tends to latch onto one person so as to simplify otherwise complex and ambiguous intellectual phenomena. Laozi is an excellent case in point. Naming the Laozi after this legendary figure, helps us ignore that it was likely a product of many hands expressing many points of view over a considerable amount of time.

Do I do the same with Zhuangzi? It is important to consider those ways in which I might. Taking the Inner Chapters as representing a more or less unified and consistent point of view is admittedly in the end a subjective decision, though one easily supported by the text itself. As for Zhuangzi, we don’t really need him to be anything more than a convenient handle by which to speak of that point of view, though again, he is likely an historical figure and the author of the content of these chapters (though their compilation and arrangement may very well be the work of another hand).

What all this ambiguity teaches us is that . . . well, that we dwell in pan-ambiguity. And that, of course, is the point of departure for the intellectual side of Zhuangzi’s response to the life-experience. Not taking our mind as our teacher applies here as well as everywhere else, though we shouldn’t forget that it is reason that brings us here.

What this means relative to our intellectual engagement with Zhuangzi is that we must continually forget the fish-trap as we assimilate the spirit of what is being said. And this is what is being said.

We evolve our philosophy (our point of view—and we all have one, examined or unexamined, cultivated or left to chance) through engagement with our own life-experience and the responses of others to theirs, but unless we are simultaneously discarding the lot we are still taking our mind as our teacher.

We are continually brought to the edge of a precipice—we stand on the ultimate groundlessness of ideas about ourselves and the world. It’s all made-up. We have interpreted our dream within our dreaming.

We are invited to leap from that precipice into non-dependence on anything at all. We are invited to wander in pan-ambiguity—untethered to any idea. We are invited to release into being human. That, I think, is the point of the entire exercise from a Zhuangzian point of view.

So let’s dream about Yang Zhu and see what he can teach us to both remember and forget.

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