A FOREWARD BY XUDANZI
The doctor tells me I will soon be dead. I ask how I could “be” dead, but she has no time for philosophical questions within the confines of my fifteen minute allotment. That’s just as well; no amount of inquiry will solve the mystery of death in any case.
My friend Scott has asked permission to transcribe and publish some talks I recently gave, and I must decide whether I wish to leave behind something of my dao, though it can only be a dead dao since its creator will also soon “be” dead. A dao is a living thing when it arises out of the process of a life being lived. Yet the world is full of dead daos though their adherents are very much alive. An adopted dao is someone else’s dao and can only be genetically inferior and soon to die. For what is a dao if not the process of an individual navigating her-, him-, or their-self through the bewildering experience of self-aware existence? The ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi tells us that a dao is made by walking it. And in the book that bears his name we are told the story of a young man who heard of a barbarian tribe that had a special way of walking. Thinking this might be the best way for him to walk, he went to join them so as to learn their special way of walking. But it was not his own natural walk, and he could not master it. After many years of failure, he decided to return home. Only now he had forgotten his own native way of walking and could only crawl home. I do not wish to cripple you.
Yet, I have just now made reference to the dao of Zhuangzi and one of his interpreters. For my dao, like every living dao, though uniquely my own, has not arisen outside the context of the daos of others. Our daos arise out of our own unique experience, but they are built with the help of those who have gone before us. Can I leave you a few scraps of my dao that might help you build your own? Only if you are able to “forget” them even as you use them—or forget them without using them at all. I must trust you in this.
As one about to die I must also ask why I would wish to leave anything behind besides the unavoidable pile of ashes and a few rapidly fading memories, soon to follow me into apparent extinction. Nothing lasts for long. Every “legacy” is just a fool’s hope. In “the broad daylight of Heaven” nothing really matters all that much. It will all come out in the final rinse. But, of course, things do matter for we who live and we have every reason to engage with them as meaningful. This is what life does. Only we needn’t cling to them as to eternal verities.
So, as one still alive, I will permit Scott to share my dao, thinking it might inspire others in the process of walking their own. And I will hope my legacy will be to have been helpful though utterly forgotten.