Monday, November 07, 2005

Zhuang Zi: the Great Leveler

Here's a great translation of one of the chapters of the Zhuang Zi that inspired "When the Great Clod Belches":

Nan-guo Zi-qi sat, casting a shadow over his low table. Then he raised his head toward heaven and sighed, besundered as though one who had lost his companion. Yan-cheng Zi-you stood ready to serve before him, and said, "In what realm were you, such that you could cause your form to resemble that of a withered tree and your heart to be like dead ashes? The one who at this time leans against his table is not he who leaned against it a moment ago."

Zi-qi said: "Yan, you did well to ask that question. Just now I lost my self. Did you know that? You have heard the pipes of man and have not heard the pipes of the Earth. You have heard the pipes of the Earth and have yet to hear the pipes of Heaven."

Zi-you replied, "I dare to ask for the gist of it."

Zi-qi said: "Now, when the Great Clod belches gas, it is called the wind. Perhaps at first it does not arise, but when it does arise the myriad cavities angrily bellow. Surely you cannot be the one person in the world not to have heard its whistling. The rocky outcroppings on the mountain peaks, the hollows and cavities in the great trees of a hundred spans: Like nostrils, like mouths, like ears, like hubs, like sockets, like mortars, like puddles, like pits. Sounds like cataracts, moans, hoots, gulps, shrieks, howls. The one that goes first sings "yuuu", and the one that follows sings "ouuu." With a cool breeze there is a minor confluence of sounds, and with a violent windstorm there is a major cacophony. When a violent wind gains surcease, then the multitude of cavities become empty. Have you alone failed to observe their bending and waving?"

The author of this translation, Patrick Edwin Moran, goes on to comment:

Permissibility comes from giving permission. Taking a particular path creates it by walking. Creatures are what they are said to be. How is it that things are the way that they are? They are thus because people affirm them to be so. How is it that things are not some way? They are not that way because people deny them being that way. Things are firmly endowed with the ways that they are, and they are firmly endowed with their permissibility. There is no thing which is not as it is, and there is no thing that is not acceptable (permissible).

For me, this comment really drives home how relevant to today's issues Zhuang Zi is: after all, no thing being not acceptable is not unlike everything being permissible, which is largely the state of things in our post God-is-dead world, where opinion is often regarded as more worthy than fact.

Therefore on account of the aforesaid, let us consider a straw and a rafter, or an ugly person and Xi Shi, the great and the shifty, the agreeable and the perverse. The Dao links them all into a single whole. Its division is a completion. Its completion is a destruction. In all cases, creatures have neither a completion or a destruction but are once again melded into one. Only those who have attained [the final goal] know how to link everything into a single whole. Those who so act do not employ [what other people engage themselves in] and give things an abode in constancy. Constancy means utility. Utility means linking things into one. Linking things into one means getting it. Once you've gotten it you are almost there.

I think this last bit, however, is stated a little too strongly: the idea that linking things into one means getting it is one of those "great understandings" that must fall from our clustered hides and wither in the earth. Trying hard to make things One, one can fail to notice they are all the same thing, and end up close, so very close...

At least, that's how I feel about it these days. :) Filed under: Tao Te Ching Dao De Jing Lao Tzu Daoism asian philosophy Yoda


Blogger Kriti said...

You have a great future as a wisdom interpreter. I intend to found a new religion soon. Wannajob?

11/07/2005 4:05 AM  
Blogger Robert Burke Richardson said...

I'm not sure about religion. I think Robert Richardson might have the right idea.

11/09/2005 2:44 AM  

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