Being Present and not a Zombie

December 16th, 2009

Is it any wonder that I love all my Tao blogging buddies?

I love these people I’ve never met….

Daily Revolution:

Your presence is your purpose.” This is the foundation of sanity, of maturity. To be present means not merely to be physically alive, but to be alive in awareness. Where such presence lives, purpose is perpetually fulfilled and authority’s golden touch becomes both superfluous and burdensome.

I have seen this presence, this natural sense of purpose manifested in bricklayers and nurses; in janitors and auto mechanics; and especially in animals. I have seen its glow in teachers, doctors, even in a few executives. But never in a corporation, never in a state, never in a media conglomerate.

Whenever you become lost or disoriented — whether it is on a city subway’s labyrinthine route or during a hike through a forest — what does your instinct tell you to do? Does it tell you to press forward with your head down and eyes half shut? Or does it urge you rather to retreat, retrace, go back, return?

The old and mournful wish of many people my age is, “ah, if only I could go back [to youth], knowing then what I know now…” The message I have to offer you today is, you can. Not in time, however — that would be too banal, vain, and unnatural an effort — remember what Einstein demonstrated, that time and space in isolation are both illusions, vapid falsehoods as patently ridiculous as a green cheese moon. But you can go back, in and to the most important moment of all time — now.

The Tao of Zombies

I think we can be more certain on the Taoist perspective on zombies. Taoism would would accept zombies as metaphysically possible. Indeed, zombies would simply be another aspect of Tao, subject to the same dynamics of the ebb and flow of ziran (occurrence appearing of itself), like any other element of Tao. There is much textual support for this point. Let’s go to the Daodejing.

The beginning of passage 2:

All beneath heaven know beauty is beauty only because there’s ugliness, and knows good is good only because there is evil…

The inescapable complementarity of all things in Tao (each thing exists in relation to their opposite) suggests a necessity, of sorts, of zombies. We cannot know humans as living, beautiful and thoughtful individuals without the presence, somewhere and sometime, of undead, horrible, senseless zombies.

The beginning of passage 5 also suggests zombies:

Heaven and earth are Inhumane: they use the ten thousand things like straw dogs. And the sage too is Inhumane: he uses the hundred-fold people like straw dogs…

Here it would seem is an insight into the political significance of zombies. Clearly, zombies are, by definition, Inhumane, and they certainly treat the hundred-fold people like straw dogs (i.e. not caring for their interests or feelings). And it is in that natural inhumanity that they might be models for the “sage.” The text is telling us: don’t get caught up in humanly-created standards of right and wrong that are disconnected with the natural unfolding of Way. Rather, follow your natural instincts. And if those include coming back from the dead and eating people, just do it…

I think there is also something here for the zombies themselves. It is as if Zhuangzi is writing this passage from them to read. He is saying to them: don’t be so anxious and obsessed with consuming humans. Rather, accept you zombie-ness, be satisfied with yourself. See yourself as an element of Way, as integral to the wholeness and completeness of Way as any other element.