The third and final story I will relate about a Neo-Daoist’s display of fengliu (eccentricity) is my favorite. A couple of Confucians come to visit a Neo-Daoist and he graciously receives them—stark naked. Needless to say the proper Confucians are scandalized and protest. The gentleman replies: “The world is my home, and this house is my clothing—why are you in my pants?”

Apart from providing us with a chuckle, it is not altogether clear how this story is meant to edify and instruct us. But once again, why do we think that it should? At its heart fengliu stands alone, incomprehensible—not susceptible to explanation. In this sense it is a bit like a koan—not a puzzle to solve, but an occasion for experiencing the unsolvable. The point is not to universalize this story by way of a moral, but to learn to let it be by way of transcending our inclination to discriminate and judge between things.

Still, there’s content here to consider. If he truly understands the world as his home, then he has successfully recontextualized his identity. He has realized a broader point of view. That’s the general trajectory of Zhuangzi’s vision—the realization of ever broader vistas by which to recontextualize our otherwise insular sense of self. But we soon reach our limits; we quickly encounter Mystery, the limitless. And that’s where we lose ourselves. The broadest possible point of view, the view from Dao, is an identification with utter and complete Openness. That’s where Ziqi lost his “me”.

One senses that this gentleman has not gone that far, however. The world is home to his “me”. When I have complained about the habits of people in a country other than my own, I have been told, “It’s their country.” My reply has been, “Yes, but it’s my world.” This serves to silence them, but also demonstrates that I too have not gone far enough.

There is also the more specific context of this story. This is also about discomforting Confucians—the purveyors (to Neo-Daoist thinking) of moral and cultural straight-jackets. There’s only one way to behave—their way. And who knows, perhaps this served as a good knock on their heads as one might expect from a Zen master as part of his instruction. (You might consider a similar reception the next time some religious types come-a-knocking.)

2 thoughts on “BASHO AND THE DAO IX”

  1. Oh, man, this is now officially my favorite Neo-Daoist story as well. Absolutely love it; have committed it to memory and will tell all and sundry. Thanks!

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