I like the idea of floating free, weightless, able to move here, there, in any direction, with little or no effort, unbound.
Even better... for this not to be an idea, but experience.
Which helps explain, as I blogged about before, why Daoism/Taoism resonates with me.
There's a freedom, a playfulness, a whatever in Daoist philosophy that mirrors the difference between relaxed Tai Chi and the hard-edged traditional Shotokan karate I spent nine years training in before I switched to what can be called Daoism-in-motion.
Daoism is difficult to put a conceptual finger on. I've been reading and re-reading various translations of the Daode Jing since my college days, many moons and suns ago.
What the Daode Jing means, and even whether it was written by somebody we know as Laozi/Lao Tzu, are open questions. Both for me and scholars.
Chad Hansen is a professor of Chinese Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong. In his book, "A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought," Hansen says that to grasp Daoism, it isn't enough to study Laozi. Zhuangzi/Chuang Tzu is the ancient Chinese man with a more mature grasp of what we have come to call Daoism.
(Hansen starts his Zhuangzi chapter with a quote from Angus Graham: "Chuang Tzu never knew he was a 'Taoist.'" True. Just as Christ never knew he was a Christian, and Buddha never knew he was a Buddhist.)
The motto of this churchless blog is preaching the gospel of spiritual independence. Zhuangzi, explains Hansen, has a wonderful image of what supports the marvelous variety of philosophies of life, religious beliefs, spiritual predelictions, life goals, and such which we humans pursue.
Absolutism is a no-no for Zhuangzi.
Let us talk, he [Zhuangzi] says, about talking about something, and about not talking about anything. Zhuangzi invites us to consider an Ur-perspective, a view from nowhere. That is the perspective from which shi [this] and bi [other] do not contrast and complement each other.
He calls it the hinge of daos (dao-shu). This is a hypothetical, unbiased, purely nonpurposive perspective that is prior to any system of language. Each pattern of prescriptive shiing [right'ing] and feiing [wrong'ing] starts from the center of a circle of infinite possibilities.
The view from the axis of daos [ways] is not where nothing can be said. It is rather the point from which anything can be said with equal warrant. Once we say something, we step off the axis onto a particular dao/path. From the axis, we can go out at any angle.
...Zhuangzi's metaperspective does not lead to nonperspectival knowledge of things. It is not a window on the thing in itself, but on the bewildering range of possibilities. It leads us to a conception of the limits of knowing.
...The skeptic can say nothing about reality because we cannot prove it. THe mystic can say nothing in principle about incommensurable reality. They thus say the same no-thing. One smiles more and has an awestruck look in his eyes. The other furrows his brow a lot.
I'm with the smiling Daoists.
There's way too much seriousness in the world, much of it produced by religious fundamentalists who believe they, and only they, know what is right and wrong, good and bad, God's will and the Devil's tempting.
Following the passage above, Hansen nicely illustrates the pleasure of a Daoist outlook on life.
A parallel comparison helps to capture the similarities between existentialism (especially Nietzsche's) and Daoism (especially Zhuangzi's). Both discover the practical pointlessness of universal or absolute meaning (purpose).
Nietzche, from his perspective as a disappointed Christian yearning for absolute, transcendent, dependence on God, experiences this awareness with existentialist angst, a sensation of looking off a cliff into a bottomless abysss. The angst is caused by the vertigo impulse, the fear we will jump or drop off our perch into that nothingness.
Zhuangzi, from his Daoist sense of the constraint of conventional authority, does not think of the cliff as a reference point. If the abyss is bottomless, then there is no such thing as falling. The cliff and Zhuangzi are both floating free.
Leaving the cliff and entering the abyss is weightlessness -- free flight -- not falling. From his relativistic perspective, the cliff is floating away. Zhuangzi's reaction is not "Oh no!" but "Whee!"
That "Whee!" reminded me of something. Dimly. A blog post I'd written... where I said Whee... about???... probably Daoism. The Great God Google quickly confirmed my intuition.
Ah, I love to quote myself.
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.
Weightlessly. Realizing that there isn't a single Dao/Tao, that Dao isn't like a God who insists on One Virtuous Way of doing things. There are many ways, many paths, many daos.
Ours is ours; other people have their own.
Except ours and own aren't really the right words, since ways arise from the presence of everything, not just us. How could we follow a path through a forest if there weren't any trees?