Oftentimes we encounter writers who are on the quest for a new Spiritual-Religion. Chuang-Tzu himself transcended the ordinary categories of just what constitutes common notions of such a quest. One of my resources in this series is a book by Ge Ling Shang entitled Liberation as affirmation: the religiosity of Zhuangzi and Nietzsche. This author has provided a key term that best expresses the aforementioned quest: Religiosity. He has chosen unlikely bedfellows whose dissimilar philosophies broached the subject, yet they did share one common characteristic. As the author writes, “both Zhuangzi’s and Nietzsche’s attack on traditional values was not so much an attempt to present another system of human values as an attempt to overcome and transcend all traditional values to reach a state of liberation and freedom. For, according to Zhuangzi and Nietzsche, liberation itself is not a value in a customary sense, but the transcending of all previous values.” Nietzsche would call this a Transvaluation of all Values. He broke through all traditional notions that had become metastasized in normative structures like a pounding hammer, whereas Zhuangzi did so in the gentle flight of a butterfly, or the ethereal breath of the Tao itself. They both succeeded in transcending all mundane conventionalities in that spirit of Religiosity. Religiosity empowers the spirit to soar beyond the narrow confines of the composed into the boundless-freedom of the Unborn.
The Toeless Man
There was an ex-con in Lu, named Toeless Shushan, whose feet had been mutilated as a punishment. He heeled his way over to see Confucius, who said to him, “You were careless in your past behavior and thus have ended up in this condition. Isn’t it a little late to come to me now?”
Toeless said, “I just didn’t understand my duties and undervalued my own body, and so I now lack a foot, but I come to you with something worth more than a foot still intact. Heaven covers all things. Earth supports all things. I used to think that you, Sir, were just like Heaven and earth—I never imagined you would instead say something like this!”
Confucius said, “It was rude of me. Won’t you please come in and teach me what you’ve learned?” But Toeless departed.
Confucius then said, “Learn from this, my disciples! For Toeless is a one-footed ex-convict, but he still endeavors to learn, so as to make up for the ugliness of his past behavior. How much more should you do so, you whose Virtuosity is still intact!” (Translation by Brook Ziporyn)
Strange how the toeless one put an exemplary persona in his place; I suppose one could say that Toeless Shushan had no small affinity with Huike, in that the loss of a limb was like discarding useless chaff in the face of That which is imageless and profound. Shusan humbly hobbled-over to hopefully gain some deeper-insight into his predicament, and instead what he encounters is a severe ideological-stance that judges things prima-facie—assuming that Shusan’s misfortune was exclusively the result of bad karma. But then Confucius stops-dead in his tracks and awakens to a far greater realization. Oftentimes Chuang-Tzu would utilize the persona of Confucius in similar fashion, with the end result being Confucian rationalism bending in the face of the Tao. Having been put in his place Confucius suddenly-realized—like a great satori-moment—that Toeless Shushan was the more “whole-one” who cared nothing for thoughts of unsightly disfigurements nor pious-platitudes. We can then ask ourselves, which of the two is more religious? The ritualistic statesman who suddenly here found his foot in his mouth; or the common toeless-lout down on his luck, but exhibiting a more genuine air of spiritual authenticity? The one who places rigid Status Quo values high above all else, or the one who accepts the singular nature of the Unborn, One that is neither large or small, ugly or beautiful. Religiosity is the willingness to look past all the surface values in life and plunge deeper into the heart of the noumenon—to see with imageless eyes what those with surface-eyes cannot even begin to fathom.