BASHO AND THE DAO VI

In addition to providing us with the opportunity to exercise our own fengliu—in this case the freedom to “roam outside the lines” of acceptable and unacceptable by way of their unification—the story related in the previous post also speaks to spontaneity, however imperfectly. We could say the protagonist acts spontaneously when he precipitously takes off into a blizzard to help his friend and then again when he similarly turns about and returns home. Or, we could say that he acted impulsively, which, I think, is something altogether different.

How are they different? Spontaneity, it seems to me, is somehow informed of a sensibility that impulsiveness does not share. The spontaneity of the cook who butchers an ox as if performing a dance is quite the opposite of impulsive—erratic. He is thoughtful—meditative—especially when confronted with an especially difficult tangle. When no special preparation is necessary, still his spontaneity emerges from a deep know-how—a knack. The novice cook “hacks”, and so too do we suspect would this gentleman if he were to stoop to such a lowly task.

Would his choices have been different if he were truly acting out of spontaneity? I think they would. If his caring about his friend had been genuine, he would have followed through in giving him assistance. What originally moved him (caring) would not have dissipated so easily; it would have emerged from who he was—a caring person—and this would have been sustained. Spontaneity is being who we are, not acting willy-nilly in response to immediate urges.

In the end we see that he did not in fact truly care for the welfare of his friend. It was merely a momentary impulse, soon lost. Would a sage truly care for her friend in this way (bringing him assistance in the midst of a blizzard) given that she had “forgotten” him in mutual forgetfulness and expresses her caring as a kind of not-caring (“helping by not helping”)? She would—or at least could. Caring informed by not-caring is not not caring. Not-caring is not indifference, but caring informed of the unavoidable wellness of the “vastest arrangement wherein nothing can be lost”. Were she to arrive too late, or herself be lost in the river-crossing, that too would have been acceptable. Her caring would not depend on specific outcomes and neither therefore would her peace of mind.

Contributing to the material well-being of this friend in need is not an attempt to change him or his opinions—the focus of non-being the change—but rather a simple expression of caring-for-another which is but an extension of one’s innate caring-for-oneself.

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