ZHUANGZI OPINES ON TRUMP II

Scott:  The election of Trump represents the culmination of the horrible trajectory of human society as a whole. Ego-centrism lives! Race-centrism lives! Nationalism lives! Species-centrism lives! The primacy of the profit-motive lives! We will continue to destroy the planet in the name of “jobs” and profit. Corporations will continue to add to their power to direct and control the entirety of human society. The rich will get richer, and all institutions will be theirs. Their enforcers are militarized and empowered. The police-state grows, and yet remains well hidden. Only the few that protest feel its wrath, while the rest of us wave our flags and root for our team. “It’s the economy, stupid!” The suffering of others matters little!

Zhuangzi:  Yes, yes. So what’s the problem? You should have been born a peasant during the Warring States Period! I know one who lost his nose for stealing a turnip! In an untended field no less! Humanity is and has always been a mess. But still, it seems to be making some moral progress, don’t you think? Who knows?—maybe it will survive itself yet. As for the Universe, it couldn’t care less. The endangered bull frogs, now—they would care—if only they could!

S:  Yes. Okay. We always come back to this. Our caring can be tempered by a non-dependent openness to wellness. Even our cosmo-centrism can be so tempered. But let’s assume that we’ve experienced this and have some inner peace—at least to some degree—what do we do with our not-at-peace? How do we engage our caring now that it is informed of not-caring? How do we make our caring count? [Advertisement: http://wetipthebalance.org/]

Zz:  Ah, now that’s the hard part! Many say I’m weak on this point. And I guess I am; but when did I say I had all the “answers”? When did I say I had any “answers”? Isn’t that part of the problem? People want answers; they want formulae; they don’t want to have to work it out for themselves. And let’s face it, this is how they usually let themselves off the hook—“What can I do?”

S:   But you do give some broad strokes about how to proceed, don’t you?

Zz: Yes. I can share some of those. This is a pretentious little Zinfandel, but not without its own special statement. Is there more?

ZHUANGZI OPINES ON TRUMP I

Scott:  Zhuangzi! You’re back! Just when I need some help figuring out how to respond to the election of Trump! Good grief!

Zhuangzi: Chill, Amigo! Are you forgetting how it doesn’t matter?

S:  I always forget how it doesn’t matter. I know, forgetting the unforgettable is true forgetfulness. But this seems to matter so much!

Zz:  You’re right, it does matter a lot—that’s why it’s so important to remember how it also doesn’t matter at all.

S:  Yeah, I know. It’s just so hard. How do you do it?

Zz:  Who ever said that I do!? I’m just working on it, same as you. But it helps just to entertain the possibility, don’t you think?

S:  Yeah, I get that. I just always want you to be a fully-realized guru.

Zz:  It seems everyone wants there to be gurus. You can bet that just because you’ve dreamed me up in your dream-world someone is going to believe I’m some sort of Immortal come down to grace your ridiculous blog. Talk about something that matters! I offer some ideas about how to live happily and before you know it, I’m an Immortal! Who knows, maybe your day will come. Ha. Ha.

S:  Not likely. I make it clear I’m a mess.

Zz:  And I didn’t? Well, maybe I should have been more explicit, like you. I just figured talking a lot of fantastic nonsense would be enough. Someone probably now believes in the literal flight of Peng.

S:  So, about Trump . . .?

Zz: Yeah, let’s talk Trump. But first, do you have something to wet my whistle? It’s thirsty work getting here from the Celestial Realms. Ha. Ha. A glass of that wine, perhaps?

UNDER HEAVEN LXXVII

We have reached the end of the Tianxia. I will conclude then with one simple observation: The philosophy presented here is not compatible with the philosophy of Zhuangzi. So many of the words and sentiments seem “right”, but the fundamental underlying assumption is entirely antithetical to Zhuangzi.

The Tianxia believes in a fixed and true articulable Dao. Zhuangzi does not. The Tianxia is essentially religious. Zhuangzi is purposely non-religious. The Tianxia expresses the religious Daoism of Huang-Lao.

For Zhuangzi, it is our not-knowing and not-believing that invites a mystical movement, an unmediated release into the life-experience itself and into the Unknowable that that experience implies and experiences as an absence. This is a movement of trust, not of belief. Belief precludes this movement. (Though it can have a mystical movement of its own.)

If these two philosophies are antithetical, can we not then “unite them to form a oneness”? Of course. This is precisely what Zhuangzi would have us do. What is that oneness? It is the realization of the equalization of all theories about things. It’s all good; it’s all acceptable. But then this is an application of the philosophy of Zhuangzi. The rascal always seems to come out on top—even as he merges his dao with all others. This is the Dao of philosophical Daoism.

The formation of a oneness does not eliminate the differences between things or our theories about them. Zhuangzi’s dao of non-belief remains antithetical to Huang-Lao belief. As such, it has its own trajectory into a mystical response to our human experience. Huang-Lao has its own. And if someone can believe, there is no good reason why they shouldn’t dive right into Huang-Lao or whatever belief-system meets their fancy. Or one can pretend they follow no dao at all.

As for me, having found my own attempt at belief to be an experiential dead-end, I like to play with Zhuangzi.

UNDER HEAVEN LXXVI

Huizi “found no peace in it [his labors] even for himself, scattering himself unceasingly into all things . . .” (p 129)

The idea of “scattering oneself unceasingly into all things” is intriguing because it seems to suggest the dark side of precisely what Zhuangzi would have us do—completely identify with all things. “All things” in this case, however, is all things plus. If the Totality were merely all things then it would indeed be just another thing, and our identification with it would be a scattering of our self-thing. Identifying with what is not-a-thing, but is rather a “Transforming Openness”, is to have a self, an identity, that is not a thing, but an unfixed openness.

In his commentary on the Zhuangzi, Guo Xiang (252?-312) speaks of a “dark joining” with things or of “vanishing into” things. (Ziporyn; The Penumbra Unbound, p 19) Here, I think, he hit upon a fundamental aspect of Zhuangzi’s vision. Accomplishing this requires realizing oneself as not-a-thing.

For Guo, every idea that we have of the thingness of things is a “trace”, a footprint left behind by happenings to which we cannot correctly assign concrete (fixed and persisting) thingness. Our self is thus also not a thing, but a spontaneous happening. Vanishing into things is simply identifying with the Great Happening—the Transforming Openness. When the self sees itself as a transforming openness its identification with all things is not a scattering, but a uniting.

But it is a “dark” uniting in the sense that in identifying with openness something of our sense of identity cannot go with it. We don’t get to “be” our self anymore. No-fixed-self is a self with an identity that is also not-an-identity. What does this mean? I have no idea. I have no way into it by way of words or thoughts , both of which necessarily imply the identity of that which we wish to say that it is not-an-identity. Is this possible? How would I know?

Identifying with the Totality, for Zhuangzi, is thus not a belief in Universal Mind, I AM, Universal Self, or Whatever. These are all things, and things are not an openness.

UNDER HEAVEN LXXV

“How sad!”

These are the final words of the Tianxia (and consequentially of the Zhuangzi). How sad!

This is the author’s final word on the case of Huizi who “found no peace in it [his labors] even for himself, scattering himself unceasingly into all things, ultimately gaining nothing more than fame as a skilled debater.” His “talents were fruitlessly dissipated running after things and never returning to himself. He was like a man trying to silence an echo with shouts or to outrun his own shadow.” (p 125)

Well, yes, this is sad. But isn’t it also somewhat descriptive of us all? Alas, it’s all true. But before we take a pleasurable wallow in pessimism, let’s take a look at the bright side of life. (Yes, think Monty Python’s Brian singing on the cross.)

There is a bright side, isn’t there? The reader no doubt expects me to now blabber on about the All Is Well doctrine. However, I feel more inclined to pass it back to you. Is there a bright side to your life? If so, what is it? When you’re finished with your list of positives, may I ask if their cumulative effect is enough? Since they are all transitory and utterly dependent on circumstances, might we not compare this to “running after things”? (You may have listed your children—did you include the possibility of your dead children?)

Alas, I’ve prematurely begun my wallow! But perhaps this is the best way to proceed. This is where Zhuangzi begins: “Can this [the futility of life] be called anything but an enormous sorrow? Is human life always this bewildering, or am I the only bewildered one? Is there actually any man, or anything in man that is not bewildering?” (2:11)

After this frank assessment of the human condition Zhuangzi emerges with a comprehensively positive response to and within it. That’s all any of this is about. That’s what this present exercise is about. It’s about the discovery of our own organic, inexplicable Yes!, and leapingly harmonizing with it. It’s about “returning to oneself”.

Is this trying to shout down our own echo? Perhaps. Do you have a better option? Do we ever do otherwise?