BASHO AND THE DAO V

I will relate by way of a faulty memory these stories of the antics of some Neo-Daoists which demonstrate something of fengliu (eccentricity). Given that they are likely at least in part fabrications, this shouldn’t impact the truth overmuch.

After several days of a blizzard, one gentleman was suddenly struck by concern for his recluse friend living some distance away in the forest. Packing up a few essentials that his friend might need he set off for his forest hut. After wading through snow and ice and crossing a treacherously swollen river he was in sight of the hut, when the desire to check on his friend left him. So, without taking those last few steps he turned around and went back home.

When his servant inquired as to why he did not complete his mission, he replied, “I went because I was moved to go; when I was no longer moved, I returned home.”

Such behavior strikes us as rather nutty, and I won’t waste time trying to make it seem otherwise. What we are after is the sense of fengliu that is to be found here. Nor should we think that to exercise something of fengliu we have to behave similarly.

I feel inclined to immediately break my promise above—there is a sense in which this behavior is not nutty—it is not nutty to he whose behavior it was. And saying so requires us to turn our minds around and look at things in an altogether different way. We judge on the basis of our own discriminations which we in turn universalize. I have no difficulty in assuming that you too find this behavior nutty. We can turn and smile at each other over such silliness.

But this leaves out the opinion and experience of this unique individual. It fails of all-inclusiveness. It is equivalent to taking one tree’s “whooo” as better than another’s “wheee” in Ziqi’s forest. It fails to transcend right and wrong. It fails in total affirmation of a one in the midst of the many. It fails of the oneness that obtains from affirming everything in its uniqueness.

This gentleman’s behavior was completely acceptable and un-nutty to himself. We do not have to imitate or even agree with him in order to let him also “bask in the broad daylight of heaven”.

Fengliu, eccentricity, in us on this occasion would be to be able to include him in our mutual smiling—let’s face it, we’re all nutty in some sense or another. In this sense the Zhuangzian sage is the paramount eccentric—unlike most of us she is able to transcend her relative judgements in the formation of a oneness—she experiences the sameness of things as well as their differences and is able to walk two roads thereby.

Basho’s fengliu was expressed in part through his ability to see the flower and moon in everything—however mundane—and this was a break from convention.

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