Zhuangzi:  People worry that an experience of oneness undermines our sense right and wrong—and we can’t be trusted to do the “right” thing without that sense dictating to us how to behave.

Scott:  There’s an infamous murderous and insane cult leader, Charles Manson, who is reported to have declared, “If all is One, what is evil?” But wouldn’t it be foolish to believe he did evil because he believed that dictum or had had an experience of oneness? Every cognitive justification for an act deemed good or evil is after the fact; it is not the cause of our behavior. Our actions arise from something much deeper than what we say we “believe”.

Zz:  But he was right; “if all is One”, there is nothing evil. The view from Dao transcends such discriminating concerns, which is why I say that the sage does not allow the natural human inclination of distinguishing between right and wrong to rule her; that’s what keeps right and wrong from entering her Numinous Reservoir and destroying her inner harmony. And that’s what allows her to affirm the “rightness” of all things.

Scott:  But that doesn’t mean that within the human sphere there isn’t good an evil. It’s just that we understand that it only exists within that sphere. We are informed by a higher view that relativizes our concern for such things and frees us from being ruled by them.

Zz:  There’s a great passage in “Autumn Floods” that addresses this: The person who says, “Why don’t we make only rightness our master and eliminate wrongness, make only order our master and eliminate chaos?”—that person has yet to understand how right and wrong are inextricably all mixed up and cannot be so clearly divided. The author tells us that that would be like taking yin as our master and eliminating yang—an obvious impossibility.

Scott:  And the irony is that in trying to make only right our master, we in fact make wrong our master. We know what is right by knowing what is wrong. Doing the right becomes an avoidance of the wrong. “Embrace the right, and the wrong shall rule.”

Zz:  Exactly. And that is where spontaneity comes in. Isn’t true goodness that which we do without the mediation of right and wrong? The sage does what is “right”, not because she thinks it right, but because that’s who she is.

Scott:  In the final analysis, morality is for the immoral, which is why within the human sphere we must make use of it. Xunzi is right: Humans are by Nature warped. And that fundamental warpedness—our ability to act outside of instinct—leads to all manner of chosen warpedness.

Zz: Yet even that is to be human and is thus affirmable—from the point of view of Dao, the view from Oneness.


Scott:  So we can recommend an experience of oneness because it makes for greater happiness. We are hedonists.

Zhuangzi:  We are! Why do people find that so . . . “wrong”!?

Scott:  Because they do not trust themselves. Or more likely, they do not trust others. They can pursue their own happiness without falling into a pernicious antinomian oneness, but others cannot be trusted to do so. Right and wrong must therefore trump the pursuit of happiness, lest the others run amok in licentiousness.

Zz:  “Pernicious antinomian oneness”—that’s a new one!

Scott:  A certain Zen “master” was explaining oneness and felt it necessary to assure us that it wasn’t a “pernicious oneness”. Somehow that struck me as so not-a-good-word that it was a sort of epiphany for me. I now ironically fantasize on starting the Church of Pernicious Oneness. Our motto is “By nature warped!” Thank you Xunzi!

Zz:  “Not-a-good-word”—can you explain that?

Scott:  In Zen a “good word” is a word or action that signifies understanding of the un-understandable. In one Zen story a master threatens to kill the cat the possession of which is the object of a dispute between his disciples—if someone cannot say a good word. They all remain silent, and the cat dies. Another disciple who was not present, upon hearing the story from the master, puts his sandals on his head and walks away. “You would have saved the cat!” the master shouts after him. Or do you know the story of Two Words Too Many?

Zz:  I’ve probably heard it, but let’s hear it again.

Scott:  A bunch of Zen masters meet in an inn for a blabber session. But the master thought to be the most enlightened—whatever that means—does not come out of his room to join the word-fest. One master complains, “At least he could give us one word.” Upon hearing this, the most-realized master says, “That would be one word too many.” But the cook, overhearing this, says, “Now there are two rat turds in the rice!” Who said a good word here? Who “got” it?

Zz:  Seems to me there are three turds in the rice. No word is a good word; but words are necessary. That’s my good word. So, you felt that qualifying oneness by reference to right and wrong the master betrayed the experience of oneness. I agree.

Scott: Similarly, to worry about right and wrong when we declare happiness as the greatest good and as the fruit of an experience of oneness is to betray a lack of understanding of oneness.


Zhuangzi:  Yes, there are many ways into an experience of oneness. Even Huizi in his deconstruction of language had his moment, though he didn’t wish to pursue it further. But when it’s all said and done, it’s not that big of a deal, in any case. He lived, he died. His enjoyment of life was pretty much the same as everyone else’s. Nothing was gained. Nothing was lost.

Scott:  That’s the view from the top of the mountain. Somehow the so-called ultimate experience always self-effaces and returns you to the most mundane. I always think of the supposed words of Gautama in this regard: “I gained absolutely nothing from supreme, unsurpassable enlightenment; that’s why it is called supreme, unsurpassable enlightenment.” There is no gap between what we are and the realization of what we are. There’s nothing to become, because we are already unavoidably it in our becoming.

Zz:  That touches on your mantra: “I’m perfect by virtue of my being perfectly who I am, as I am.”

Scott:  Nothing to do; nothing to become; no conditions to meet. It’s already true of me and everyone and everything else. It’s the Great Happening. We feel like we have to “go” somewhere; become something different; realize oneness. But not-realizing oneness is the same as realizing it. It’s always the case. It’s all completely embraced. It’s all good. All is well in the Great Mess.

Zz: Is it? Or do we only imagine it as so?

Scott:  We only imagine it as so. There’s no other choice but to imagine some interpretation of reality or another. But the experience is real enough—whether “true” or not. Every experience lies outside of truth or untruth.

Zz:  And the fantastic experience of a madman is as affirmable as any other experience?

Scott:  It is. Nothing is not the Great Happening. But madmen don’t seem to enjoy life as much as “sane” people. They have settled on an imagined reality that is usually terribly painful. Neither their own flourishing nor that of others is enhanced by their interpretation of the world. And that, from the human point of view, is the highest value—being happy and enhancing the happiness of others. Madness is thus not a particularly appealing imagined reality.

Zz:  And realizing a sense of oneness is an experience conducive to our self- and collective-flourishing. That’s its only value. It’s not realizing the Truth. The great riddle is not solved. Reality is not made whole once again. God doesn’t awaken from his dream.  No hocus-pocus metaphysics are implied. It’s just choosing to experience the world in a certain way.


Scott:  Hi again! No friend this time?

Zhuangzi:  Hi. No. You’ll be in fundamental disagreement with most anyone I bring, and I thought you might be in need of a break from your lessons in “following along with the present this”.

Scott: I am; it’s true. But Xunzi was a pretty big challenge, you’ll have to admit. Huizi was easier.

Zz: Yes, he was. But then we and he are on the same page when it comes to skepticism regarding our ability to know the truth. Still, the greater the challenge, the better the lesson.

Scott:  I suppose so. But, yes, I could use a breather. And anyway there’s something I want to share with you—something that came up during our discussion with Xunzi. It’s an experience, really.

Zz:  Great! I could use a break from pure blabber—though I suppose you’ll have to blabber to share it.

Scott: I will. But I don’t think the blabber can really say it. It was an experience of oneness. It comes from realizing human nature as Nature, not just in an abstract, cognitive sense, but experientially. It’s simple really.

Zz: Of course it is. I really enjoy all this philosophizing and word-play, but the truth is that it must always miss the mark. It can never be what it is intended to covey—experience. And though you can’t talk your way into experience, you can set the stage for a leap. So, tell me more.

Scott:  Everything I am and do is the happening of Nature. That’s what my “the Great Happening” is intended to convey. Every happening, including all my happenings—whatever and however they are—imagined or real, freely chosen or determined, “good” or “bad”—all of them are the happening of the Great Happening. It’s just another way of describing your “the same as the Transforming Openness”.

Zz: “There are many paths to the mountain top, but the view is always the same.”

Scott:  Where’d that come from?

Zz:  The crime novel you’re reading at the moment.

Scott:  Oh. Well, it still says a lot. I get that sense in your writing; there’s lots of ways to imaginatively enter a sense of oneness.