Often, before I reach some new, if still blindsided, plateau of understanding, I act like a chicken on the eve of volcanic effusion. Volcanic because my very foundations seem to be moving from beneath me: I spout the usual doubtful self-questioning as if by shaking myself, the world would stand still, out of courtesy.
Yesterday morning, I was particularly vocal with the bok-bok-bok of uncertainty, but last night, with the heaviness of rain, I came to the answers I was looking for in Chuang Tzu - who, incidentally, some argue can be read out of context because he was such an unconventional thinker.
All evening, I read Chapter 26, Folly of Worldliness (text divisions clearer here but I prefer the Giles translation in first link). Don't get caught up in praising the ancients, is one idea that happens to scold my last post, because such praise enslaves one - and anyway, to be a -historical!- moraliser is too tall an order for one man's little brain. Respecting the ancients is fine so long as the respect doesn't detract attention from the life one is given to live, which invariably requires spontaneity.
In a beautiful tale about a tortoise, we are told that not even wisdom can save us from ourselves and even the wisest can be caught in the snares set by those who scheme; it is an illusion to think that with wisdom, all problems will be solved. One is instead to seek the Way.
There are many warnings about becoming too set on certain ideas, even ostensibly virtuous ones. We see some Confucians at a grave, contorting a jaw in order to remove a pearl from the mouth - "in life, no charity; in death, no pearl". There are many 'set ideas' one can cultivate besides a love of rules or the ancients. What about the idea that one must be doing something wrong if one's work isn't recognised. "Scheming leads to confusion. Knowledge begets contentions. Obstinacy produces stupidity." It is the Way that takes care of what needs to be taken care of.
But I would not call the Way laissez-faire, even though Chuang Tzu says that plants sprout up without being conscious of the fact - or, "The true sage is a passive agent." The point is that one is not to over-exert oneself in trying to become wise. Once one consciously bends out of one's way to be virtuous, one is misshaped. One can suddenly become petty, with the little wisdom one has, and start to boss people about. "Get rid of small wisdom, and great wisdom will shine upon you." Showing off one's catch of herring is a very different thing from catching a big fish.
Last week I clucked at my shaking world, but I am reminded that to get the big fish that can feed a million takes far longer to catch than a handful of smelt - and that no idea is a hiding place.