You hear the piping of men, but you haven’t heard the piping of earth. Or if you’ve heard the piping of earth, you haven’t heard the piping of Heaven!
The Great Clod belches out breath and its name is wind. So long as it doesn’t come forth, nothing happens. But when it does, then ten thousand hollows begin crying wildly. Can’t you hear them, long drawn out? In the mountain forests that lash and sway, there are huge trees a hundred spans around with hollows and openings like noses, like mouths, like ears, like jugs, like cups, like mortars, like rifts, like ruts. They roar like waves, whistle like arrows, screech, gasp, cry, wail, moan, and howl, those in the lead calling out yeee!, those behind calling out yuuu! In a gentle breeze they answer faintly, but in a full gale the chorus is gigantic. And when the fierce wind has passed on, then all the hollows are empty again. Have you never seen the tossing and trembling that goes on?
Blowing on the ten thousand things in a different way, so that each can be itself – all take what they want for themselves, but who does the sounding?”
— Chuang Tzu, Chapter 2 (Watson translation)
What the fuck does that idiot-asshole Chuang Tzu know? They didn’t even have smart phones during his time. Or TV dinners. Or firearms.
Still, perhaps there is something to be considered from Mr. Tzu’s description of the heavenly pipes.
My last post was about the idiot-assholes who go around pretending to be enlightened. Some of the things I wrote upset some people. I sort of feel like people got the impression that I was implying that I was enlightened and everybody else doesn’t know what they’re talking about. But, that wasn’t the my intent at all. I’m also an idiot-asshole. Only my head isn’t shaved, I don’t wear robes, and I’m aware that I’m an idiot-asshole. But just because I’m an idiot-asshole it doesn’t mean that I can’t have the opinion that other people are idiot-assholes as well.
It sort of takes one to know one, I guess.
Anyhow, from one idiot-asshole to all three of the idiot-assholes reading this thing, let’s talk about all the different kinds of idiot-assholes “crying wildly” out there.
Do you ever look around at the sheer variety of life that abounds in the world? Like, I’m not even talking about all the different species. I’m not talking about fish, fowl, and fauna. I’m not even talking about microbic river gremlins that swim up your urine stream and into your urethra in order to infiltrate your mindscape. I’m talking specifically about human beings. Do you ever just look around at the sheer amount of different characters and personalities and dispositions? I do, occasionally, and it freaks me the fuck out. Like, literally. I feel the initial pangs of a nervous breakdown taking hold. When I was younger I would wander around in an existential stupor for hours at a time when this would happen, feeling disconnected, dissociated, alienated from the entirety of my race. I’m not at all sure this rare. I suspect it’s the norm. I also suspect that this sort of non-clinical “dissociative fugue” never really goes away, but if we’re lucky, we all learn to cope with it in a myriad of ways. And if we don’t, our inability to cope manifests itself in the form of depressive or anxious symptoms, or in conditions that interfere much more intensely with our functioning, such as psychosis.
This is what Chuang Tzu was getting at, I think. Listening to the “heavenly pipes” in a manner so that we don’t go insane.
There’s another section in the Chuang Tzu where he writes about the torture and displeasure that a duck would feel if one attempted to lengthen its legs to be more like a crane. Just the same, trying to shorten a crane’s legs would accomplish nothing but to make it suffer. Chuang Tzu, of course, is not telling these stories so that they can simply be taken literally. The images are analogs for human personalities. For all his condescension of the Confucian ideal, or the dialecticians, Chuang Tzu ultimately holds a certain fondness for them. For all the shit he gives the dialectician Hui Tzu—and he gives him tons of shit—Hui Tzu is ultimately Chuang Tzu’s best friend and, in Chapter 24, Chuang Tzu mourns wistfully as he passes the grave of Hui Tzu. And in his criticisms and teasings of the Confucians, he rarely comes across as rude or mean or nasty (the “Robber Chih” chapter arguably being the exception). It actually seems—from the English translations, at least—that he looks upon the Confucians much as a bemused friend gazes upon a beloved friend who makes wasteful, but ultimately harmless, mistakes.
One of the key points of the Chuang Tzu is how little man/woman actually knows. How can Chuang Tzu, or anyone else, promote a certain way of life, if we don’t actually know that it’s the proper way to live? This was the core of his criticisms of the Confucians. They, the Confucians, put a bunch of priority on ritual and norms and customs, but where’s the proof that any such rituals or customs are truly the Right Way to Live? His criticism of the dialecticians (i.e. “School of Names”) was the same. He thought the dialecticians put far too much importance in the efficacy of language, when we really don’t know what words mean (if you can’t see the relevance of this dilemma in our own times, I suggest you go back to the business of making money, and stay out of the important conversations).
When we read the Chuang Tzu, we see that Chuang Tzu doesn’t really give any advice. There are no real assertions on how to live life. It’s a book mostly of poking holes in the ideas of others, and a bunch of somewhat vague, opaque, and ultimately misty points about the idea of Wu-Wei. We read the Chuang Tzu and we know that he asserts that Wu-Wei is one of the keys to living a good life, but we’re not given anything more than stingy hints about how one goes about obtaining a Wu-Wei state. Am I supposed to become a butcher? Should I cut off a foot? Should I lament the fact that I’m (in theory, at least) not the ugliest human being on the planet?
Anyhow, the point, then—since we’re not given any actual advice on how to live, but we’re encouraged to be spontaneous—is that we’re only to act what is according to each of our own natures. Ultimately the Confucians are supposed to be the Confucians. The dialecticians, the dialecticians. The deformed are to be deformed. And Chuang Tzu is to be Chuang Tzu. And we can extend this idea to the modern day. Bald-headed idiot-assholes are supposed to be bald-headed idiot-assholes. Tea Party assholes are supposed to be Tea Party assholes. Mediocre middle-manager types are supposed to be sad and pitiable, and so on.
This is why there are no real instructions on how to attain Wu-Wei. It’s a state of “non-doing” because you’re simply “being” at any given moment.
This is an Oprah moment. And I’m hoping she invites me on to talk about this idea. The importance of “being.” Maybe Eckhart Tolle already discussed this. But there’s a common misunderstanding about what “being” is being.
The old Greek cynic Diogenes often would masturbate in public. When asked what the fuck his problem was, he used to state, “If only I could satiate my hunger by rubbing my belly.” WHAT AN ENLIGHTENED MAN. He was horny. That was his state of being. It was nothing to be ashamed of. His masturbation wasn’t his issue. It was everyone else’s. They were all pretending that they weren’t walking around horny half the day. He just had the good sense to acknowledge, accept, and address the situation.
Would Deepak Chopra ever walk on to Oprah’s set and start having a tug of war with Cyclops?
So, though, does this mean baby murderers are supposed to be baby murderers? Rapists, rapists?
That’s a tricky question. And it’s the one that backs every “moral relativist” into a bit of a corner. And the initial impulse of anyone trying to answer that question from a perspective of Chuang Tzu’s “Heavenly Pipes” is to conduct some mental gymnastics to say that, no, rapists aren’t supposed to be rapists. That some forms of being are actually “wrong” or “lesser” because they’re less “enlightened” acts, or whatever.
But I’m not going to do that. I may be a coward in the “real world.” But I’ve got stainless steel cojones on paper, suckers. And I’m simply going to assert that, outside of human (or other like-minded) consciousness, the Universe neither smiles nor frowns upon baby killing. It happens in nature all the time. And, in the ancient world, conquering armies murdered human babies with impunity. Hell, if you were a Spartan, you killed your own babies if they were destined to be weak little pussies.
All of which IS NOT A DEFENSE OF KILLING BABIES. Let’s get that out of the way. As far as I’m concerned, The Universe can go fuck itself since it quite obviously doesn’t give two shits about baby killing or rape. The point here, dull as it is, is that doing the “right thing” when no “right thing” actually exists is exactly the “right thing” — precisely. However, to know what the right thing is at any given time, in any given situation, requires an open and agile mind. Closed, fixed minds, full of stiff ideas can’t see past those ideas. The concept of Wu-Wei is nothing more than “going with the flow” of life in such a manner that you can use the current to avoid all the sharp rocks and twigs that pose a threat to your journey.
Or, perhaps more fittingly, it takes an open mind to hear the tunes from all of the heavenly pipes, so that it can pick from the most beautiful among them. A closed mind will never take the time or effort to listen to all the songs being played. It will never consider them all. It has all the answers. But different situations call for different tunes. You can’t play MF Doom at the Republican National Convention, for example….Or, maybe you can. Maybe that’s the precise place to play some MF Doom. I don’t know.
Anyhow, we got sort of off topic here, it would seem to some people. But we haven’t. We can look at the heavenly pipes as coming together to play a symphony of sorts. If a symphony consisted of nothing but one tune being played by all the instruments, it might still sound nice, but it wouldn’t have the power and complexity and beauty of a symphony with all manner of melodies and rhythms and basslines being played. Which is not to even mention the effect each distinct instrument has on the sound. I may not be a huge fan of the Oboe, but the symphony would lose something in its effect without it.
And, in the end, life is nothing if not a symphony. You play your role. I play mine. And we all bitch about each other as if we didn’t need each other to get the most out of each piece of music. Life is the greatest symphony of all, and, like any great story, it’s full of pain and conflict and suffering and, if we’re lucky enough, triumph.
The only real interesting question is: Who’s The One playing all the instruments? What is It that blows hot air through all of us idiot-assholes?
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