Reality is what it is. That's difficult, if not impossible, to argue with. And it's a central proposition of Taoism, which is one reason I'm so attracted to this philosophy.
We humans like to name things, conceptualize things, analyze things. But what if something isn't really a "thing"? Then how do we relate to it?
Like, the universe, the cosmos, the whole shebang.
Not a piece of it, which could reasonably be viewed as a thing. Rather, the entire mysterious ungraspable stupendous all-encompassing entirety of everything -- that can't be divided into this thing and that thing.
On my other blog I wrote about Qiguang's talk. Here I won't repeat what I said there. I'll start in where I left off, with some thoughts about imagination. After his talk, I asked Qiguang how imagination relates to Taoism.
I liked his subtle answer, which basically was that nature is real and imagination is, well, imaginary by comparison. However, we can't grasp the essence of the natural world, or Tao.
Why? Because we are that essence. We are nature. We are Tao.
So we imagine what it is like, because that's all we can do. We tell stories about it. We name what can't be named, conceptualize what is beyond concepts, and analyze what can't be broken into parts.
All this imagining is fun. It's enjoyable. I'm doing it right now. So are you, as you read and ponder what I've written.
Why? Well, I don't know. I guess because we can. Humans can do these things. My dog can't, so far as I can tell.
It's good, though, to be reminded that whatever we think we understand about the cosmos, it isn't much. Through science, art, music, poetry, philosophy, religion, and simply living we get glimpses of what The Big Picture is, but our perspective is inescapably narrow, restricted, incomplete, partial.
I recall saying to Qiguang, after he replied to my question, "Imagination is fine, so long as we know that we are engaging in it. Problems only arise when we mistake our imagination for reality."
Religions start off with imagining. For example, true believing Christians imagine that God exists, that Jesus saves, that sins can be washed away, that heaven awaits after death.
I like how Taoism ends with imagining. The message I got from Qiguang's response to my question is that imagination fills the gap between what we can comprehend and what is real.
We do our best to understand what can be understood. But some things can't be understood. Especially things that aren't a thing, as noted above.
We could follow Wittgenstein's advice: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." That isn't much fun, though. We're social, communicative creatures. So we use our imagination to detour around the roadblock of what can't be spoken of, because it can't be understood.
Whee! We're still driving on the understanding road!
As fast as we want. Even going offroad... then onroad... wherever. No problem. After all, it's an imaginary road, and we're not getting anywhere in really real reality. Just our imaginary reality.
Taoists do a lot of laughing. At themselves. At the world. At the Tao. They don't take themselves very seriously. This came through in Qiguang's entertaining talk.
Near the end of his presentation he told a story, showing an illustration from his book that he'd drawn himself in a Taoist style: people small, nature large.
A Chinese man is driving a cart pulled by a horse. There's a jug of wine sitting behind his seat. No luggage. No other belongings. Just a large jug of wine. What else does he need?
A boy is walking in back of the cart. He's carrying a hoe. Qiguang said that the man hired the boy to follow him. When the man dies and falls off the cart (too much wine?) the boy's job is to bury him where he lies with the hoe.
Confucianism, Qiguang said, has rules about how a person is supposed to be buried. The Taoist attitude is, whatever. So the man is flaunting Confucian rigidity and pretentiousness.
If we feel like imagining what reality is like, no problem. Whatever. We just shouldn't take our imagining very seriously, or expect other people to share in it.
Religious myths can be entertaining. Fun. Comforting. Inspiring. If we don't feel like remaining silent regarding what can't be spoken about, why not imagine away?
Knowing what we're doing. With a smile on our face.