BASHO AND THE DAO VII

Another anecdote thought to exemplify fengliu has a gentleman designate two servants to accompany him on his wanderings here and there. One servant is to carry a flagon of wine so it’s always at the ready. The other is to carry a shovel with which to bury the gentleman if and wherever he drops dead.

What are we to do with this? It certainly qualifies as eccentric, but is there anything in it that we would want to emulate? But why does that matter? I have fallen back into universalizing the particular rather than letting the particular just be right in itself. And that’s the whole point relative to Basho’s poetry—“splash”, a frog leapt into a pond. However this affects us, whatever mood it stimulates in us, is by way of its inviolably unique and momentary particularity.

If this is the case, then any and every happening is itself fengliu and invites us to experience fengliu in our experience of it. Eccentricity is uniqueness. The nuttiness of this gentleman’s particular expression can be helpful in that it calls us out of our everyday stupor and requires of us a movement into either acceptance (inclusion) or exclusion.

As for the excessive preoccupation with wine, it can only also be ultimately acceptable, though to the extent that it negatively affects one’s own life-enjoyment and that of others it is unacceptable.

The openness to the possibility of one’s dying at any moment and the willingness to be buried wherever one drops speaks to both the Daoist acceptance of death as inseparable from life and the eschewal of all conventions intended to make it seem otherwise. This last was a special feature of the Confucianism to which the Neo-Daoists were in revolt.

The wonderful story of Zhuangzi on his death bed comes to mind; he is surrounded by disciples discussing the lavish funeral arrangements by which to honor him in death. But Zhuangzi interrupts: “I have heaven and earth as my coffin and crypt, the sun and moon as my paired jades, the stars and constellations for my round and oblong gems, all creatures for my tomb gifts and pallbearers. My funeral accoutrements are fully prepared! What could possibly be added?”

And when the disciples reply that they fear that the crows and vultures will eat him, he replies that the crickets and ants will have him in any case: “Now you want to rob the one to feed the other. Why such favoritism?” (32; p 117)

This story metaphorically illustrates “hiding the world in the world where nothing can be lost”, the identification with the Totality in the equalization of all things.

Two other stories speak to this, and I will discuss them in the post to follow.

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