The Immortal

Posted: June 2, 2012 in Uncategorized

The immortal seeks power like a sports event. Both Taoism and Christianity represent  its poles, the Way of Powers (siddhi) vs. the Philosophical Way of Wisdom. Alan Watts says: [Hsien Taoism is] “a quest for immortality and supernormal powers through the gymnosophic and “yogic” practices which seem to have arisen among Taoists in the -2nd and -1st centuries. A hsien is an immortal–one who has purified his flesh from decay by special forms of breathing, diet, drugs, and exrcises for preserving the semen comparable to those of Tantric Yoga” (The Watercourse Way, xxv).

As opposed to this H. G. Creel says that the Huai Nan Tzu Contemplative Taoism (which became Zen), “insists repeatedly that death and life are just the same, and neither should be sought or feared. It ridicules breath control and gymnastics, which are designed to perpetuate the body but in fact confuse the mind” (xxvi). Watts says, “the indefinite enlargement of our powers and techniques seems in the end to be the pursuit of a mirage.”

It is important not to miss the wit of this response which is more gentle than its condemnation by Lieh Tzŭ, who called it “not merely foolish and futile, but even immoral” (Creel, 22). Facetiously assuming the mirage, these “immortals” live in the desert of their own making. They deny themselves. Watts teases “one who is immortal and who has control of everything that happens to him strikes me as self-condemned to eternal boredom, since he lives in a world without mystery or surprise.”

But people are highly vested in immortality.  Russell Kirkland calls Creel’s nicely reasoned What is Taoism? a “diatribe”. The diatribe is the critic’s.

Beyond aspersions Creel believes, as opposed to Watts, that Lao Tzu is not the work of one author, that the unity of voice however proves how good the editor is: “the editor was excellent and gives, on the whole, a remarkable appearance of homogeneity.” Ancient texts differ from the modern in this. It is only fiction if I demythologize Borges, which in essence argues that he was never born, but it is called fact if I find that of Homer, Sappho, Moses, David, Plato, Moses, Beowulf. We have the odd companions of fiction that read like journalism and criticism which read like fantasy. Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu editors and scholars believe in themselves and the editorial class more than in authors. The qualities Creel cites, repetitions in the text, terse and aphoristic style, are primary facets of writers, along with contradiction and fine expression. To imagine these qualities from the hand of editors is a nineteenth century fantasy. A greater myth than Borges!  As Watts says and Wouk agrees these “interpretatio europeica moderna” (European desk scholar)  demo primary sources as their livelihood because it buys promotion and tenure. Wendell Berry calls them the luxury politics of an academic islander.This is true about the Pennsylvania Dutch as well as Taoists.

Chuang Tzu was asked whether he would rather drag up the useless tree that was spared or the unsinging goose that was not (Legge, II, 27).  Some editor thought that? ‘There is a man over there with a long body and short legs, round shoulders and drooping ears. He looks as though he were sorrowing over mankind. I know not who he can be.’ ‘It is Confucius!’ ‘Bid him come hither.’ #26

To live long be useless is the counsel. Or get eaten. The invitation to usefulness, perfection, immortality  is an invitation to consumption. The Mystic quest is  tainted with the furtherment of personal ambitions and political purposes. Science and art are marketed as business. If you are a  migrant you may be kidnapped, but if you are rich you might be too. Hunchbacks are not conscripted for war, the straight and strong are, therefore hunchbacks live. The straight tree is the first cut; the well of sweet water is the first exhausted (Legge, Chuang Tzu, II, 33). But if a man can empty himself of himself during his time in the world  who can harm him (II, 31)?  We sure see a lot of that! The close-furred fox and the elegantly-spotted leopard…it is their skins which occasion their calamity (II, 29).

Watts feels that if you do certain things to live forever, that tends toward the Confucian. Before the age of resveratrol and HA, Taoist alchemy said all you had to do was sublimate energy up the spine. Breathe right, eat right, sit right, stop the wandering mind. Now the transmortal says either wait for artilect, new genes or hybridize yourself. Who knows how old you can be? It brings into question  life itself if to be immortal you have to not live at all. Cut down to perfection, life free of mistake loses the thing Taoists seek most, spontaneity.

Stopped Minds

Smoothing the ocean by hitting it with a board is like stopping the mind. The mind anxious for its own anxiety feels the same with this compulsion as the body hit by the same flat board in zazen. Stopped minders can be petty. Immortality is a pinched nerve. Beauty conflicts with immortality. It wants to be exploited and used. The gnarled pine, thorn and crag, hellebore bushes up the path of weasels (Legge, II, 93) get to be immortal. Nobody wants them. Imperfection outlasts the straight and strong. Only the singing goose that is spared is the exception.

To be mortal Chuang-tzu says, “though seventy years of age, I am still making wheels,” or as Andrew S. Mack found as he traveled to Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota at the age of 71 in 1908, two years after his last letter, and Amasa Clark who fathered four children after the age of 70, though he lived to 101, the chance of survival is best when there is no anxiety to survive, but there is no greater anxiety than the effort to be immortal, to “exhale and inhale, to puff out old breath and draw new, stretch and crane to live long, it is an induced tao.” Do not let the thoughts keep working anxiously (James Legge, Chuang Tzu, II, 77).  Van de Wetering called it Afterzen, when he saw through the sham. Do you want nose, ear, eye and mind to wander like Chaung Tzu who invented Zen? Live.

Improved Immortals

It is the difference between supermarket foods we call immortal, because enhanced, and natural foods, unimproved, or if you like, the life and death herbs. The improved “immortals” are desiccate, ragged, empty of nutrition when dried. The unimproved are full, well formed, nutritious. This analogy between two corns resembles people who cut their own lawns, do their own dishes, repair themselves by themselves, weed their gardens, do their own books, clean their  house, teach their children. Those who hire maintenance so they can seek pleasure and  fortune are immortal.

Unimproved roads! Narrow is the way! What are improved roads for but more traffic? Why traffic, but development? Why development, but  trade? Travel as easy as you can. Thoroughfare, freeway, inflation, consumption for its own sake pave a way to the empty fritterless corn. Immortal, happily there is a cure. A cure for immortality: here


C. S. Lewis and the Transhuman

 Prometheus Unbound: Transhumanist Arguments
The Transhuman organ
James J. Hughes.  (Trans)humanism & Biopolitics
Transhuman Transformation
Humanism and Transhumanism
C. S. Lewis as Philosopher
Transhumanism’s SolipsisticUtopianism The First Transhumanist

Teilhard de Chardin and Transhumanism


*Kurzweil Quaddafi is more than just a pretty phrase. Transmortals do not brook opposition. They were able to burn down one of their opponents when name calling didn’t work.

But see Patrick Lin’s defense in On Wrestling With A Pig, where we learn how to read his metaphor:

“First, I would never call someone a “pig” — that’s just rude (unless you’re talking to Babe or Wilbur, who really are pigs). All I did was present an apt quote by a writer. Sometimes, a metaphor is a metaphor. Had I chosen “Don’t get into a pissing match with a skunk”, does this imply that the letter’s author is a skunk? If I said he’s “the bee’s knees”, does that mean I’m making a literal comparison of him to a bee’s body part? (Do they even have knees?). Sep 22, 2010



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