Shipwrecked at Carthage-- Part 2 (this time for the Gialbo)
Seneca is stoically silent, while Ibn Arabi voices his complaints loudly on Facebook. It seems that some of you are not yet convinced that Dido had a point. The Gialbo-- in his typically subtle and yet sophisticated manner-- brings up the famous scene where Zhuangzi mourns his dead wife in order to try and better understand what exactly we are talking about:
I am at first taken aback by Seneca Crane's interpretation (see here). It is pure stoicism (I cannot help but think darkly). Although I do know what he means in a sense. That one is to "taste without tasting" (ddj63) etc. At the same time, I decide to go ahead and make my own translation of the passage to see if I cannot get to an interpretation that will be more satisfactory to me (and to Dido).
After completing my rendition, I discover, it's not all that different from Watson's-- except perhaps that I would want to stress much more this concept that Zhuangzi (otherwise known as ZZ) is basing both his behavior as well as the reason behind his behavior on something the Japanese translations have as 自然の法則 principles of nature and the dao 道理.
Ibn Arabi-- whose stamina for debate is unsurpassed-- has many problems with this, but for now I am sticking to this idea that what Watson call fate and what Legge calls "what is appointed for all" is really best expressed as the laws of nature or Way.
But more importantly, that this really boils down to one man's (the man we call ZZ) personal response to Way. And, that this personal response to Way has less stress on an objective-sounding normative "should" than the Roman version would suggest (I am basing my interpretation on online Japanese sources-- which many of you will be aware that I usually am more friendly to since after all they have been doing this a 1000 years). In fact, concerning this second point, two of the online sites I used had this last line explicitly translated something like, "and as for myself, I thought to cry like that would be ignoring what was natural as Way.... "
These small adjustments in emphasis lend for a translation that is much more intuitive to me:
When Zhuangzi's wife died, Huizi found him singing and drumming.
Huizi asked him: "Zhuangdi, is it right to to be singing and drumming during a time of mourning? Afterall was it not your wife who lived with you all these years, raising your children? To not cry is one thing, but to sing and drum-- is this not a time for sadness (is not your reaction unnatural)?"
Zhuangzi replied: "Not at all. Was I not devastated when she first died? Did I not cry then?
"Thinking about it, though, I thought about that time before she was born when she had no real "existence." Not only did she have no real "existence" but she had no physical form. And without a body, she also had no spirit (氣). From out of this murky nothing, however, 氣 was generated and this was changed into "form." Now this body and 氣 has returned to it's origins-- and this is no different than the changing of the seasons. From spring to summer, from summer to fall, from fall to winter, this is the natural way of the world. That humans can return to a peaceful slumber in a great room within nature-- in this happy state, why would I then cry thinking of her like that? To cry after thinking of it in this way would be to ignore what is natural-- or the Way of Nature." (天命）
Watson calls this concept of 「命」 Fate. And, I don't dislike this-- as long as we remember that while for the Stoics, fate was like a dog tied to cart being dragged around town; for the daoist sage, what was fate other than simply the natural unfolding of events? Actually, just going by the Japanese, 天命 perhaps all it really suggests is the concept of all those things which are out of human hands-- or as wikipedia explains, "how one should live the life given to human beings by "heaven" (天から人間に与えられた一生をかけて行うべき命令のこと)
To my mind, the interesting question is: how does one know what to do in any given situation? How can person understand what is their fate? Well for the stoics, one knew fate (or Nature) through reason. And to cultivate reason one was to do everything in their power to diminish the emotions which could cloud our rational faculties (like our Lady Dido). Harvard tells me that his Latin professor once remarked in class that the main Stoic policy was, "Never fall in love, under any circumstances".
I just don't see that as being part of the daoist mindset since emotions and passions are not categorically dismissed in the same way. And indeed, to "not act" is-- in fact-- to act. "Not acting" as such is an absurd concept so we really, I think, have to be not so quick to dismiss poor Dido just because she acted (even in this case cursing unto suicide!). Because of course, even had she not acted with passion, she still would have been acting.
How can one possible judge what was in harmony with the way and what was not? Well, I am left with the idea that our fate (or Way) is known through our intuition and to cultivate intuition one seeks to heighten sensibility in what is in the end a very individual project. And, I would suggest that only those involved-- including Dido's subjects-- only they could pass accurate ethical judgement-- after the fact.
So, what does that say about Zhuangzi mourning his dead wife? Well, I reject that it says anything whatsoever about the limits of our loving relationships-- at the same time agreeing with Professor A Ku that it recommends-- rather than any sort of emotional detachment-- rather it prescribes an individual commitment to staying in the present tense and yes-- going with the flow (even if that means cursing onto suicide).
Indeed, when I read the passage, it resonates to me as one long meditation which has as its base ZZ's tremendously attached love for his wife. For if he wasn't so enthralled by her as to be devastated by her passing, why would he have thought about this so deeply. It is absolutely beautiful, I think.
And no where does he say, "better not to be attached to love," but rather-- better to understand that death is nothing to be fearful of as death is part of the natural cycle of things (自然の循環 ）. Where Confucian teaches, "just take care of your life and death will take care of itself," our Man from the State of Song, says that death is as part of nature as the passing of the seasons. It is not only not a sad event, but it is all part of the way things are (無為自然→自然の規則的な循環 ）
As a side note, I read a very interesting paper last night as I lay next to Adonis watching him sleep like an angel. Written by a professor at Nihon Daigaku, Kunitsugu Kosaka, it presents wuwei as being not something that humans do alone, but rather that it is nature that is wuwei. Again and again the paper had this phrase 無為自然 and so this I think is the best clue to understanding what wuwei is (and perhaps it is something that all daoists need to take their own stand on in individual ways?)
Anyway, I learn that my man Ibn Arabi also plays the guqin. Over at his very bare-bones abode, he writes very beautifully about a piece of music called Mozi Grieving over Silk, explaining,
Mozi was walking through town one day when he came across silk dyers plying their trade. He was moved to tears by this scene as it led him to reflect that on the inevitable force exerted on man by his surroundings, his relationships, and his experiences. Life dyes us: we can never go back to the way we were, let alone imagine how we might have turned out if this hue, that hue had never bled through us.
And when I complain
Yes, I think it is true that life dyes us– every single experience. Therefore, don’t you think only the cowardly turn away?
He wisely responds-- whether you turn away or not, life will dye you.
True. But, we also don't want to turn away from life or our emotions, right?
Ronald de Susa ends his paper Learning to be Natural like this
We are forever launched into a dialectical dance: our emotional dispositions respond to, but also create, entirely new contexts. We obviously can't judge new situations with anything other than our old dispositions; but if we apply ourselves to take as comprehensive a view of the new context as possible, the totality of our emotional reactions will generate new paradigm scenarios, from which emerge fresh axiological judgments.
Happy birthday to Sam, and to the man who made me smile all day long yesterday after telling me, "I am no Roman-- I am all about the love" this is for you: