The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 50, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Are you ready for death? That is what today’s chapter is all about. How to be ready for death. And who, other than a mortician, wants to talk about being ready for death? Lao Tzu wasn’t a mortician, though, and he was willing to talk about it. So, maybe we need to talk about it, too. We all know we are going to die. We may want to postpone it. Prevent it if we can, for as long as we can. But we know we are going to die. At least, we say we know it.
And, we fear it. Yes, admit it. We fear it. We’d much rather talk about living, on and on and on. Maybe, if we can postpone talking about it, even thinking about it, we can somehow postpone what we know is inevitable. We are all going to die. Lao Tzu won’t let us not think about it, not talk about it. He wants us to be ready for it. Why?
There is really only one reason. We can’t truly live until we accept, submit to, and yes, surrender to this very real part of the life cycle. We are going to die.
Lao Tzu doesn’t mean we need to hasten death’s arrival. But we shouldn’t let the fear of it keep us from truly living, today, now, in this present moment. Fear, once again, is nothing but a phantom. It is a phantom which arises because we are thinking of ourselves as separate from the whole. This phantom, fear, is only an illusion in our mind. An illusion. But it causes our bodies to offer up all sorts of resistances. These resistances are what keep us from living in the present moment.
And living in the present moment is the only way to truly live. So it is that the Master, our example, gives himself up to whatever the moment brings. Giving himself up. That is a kind of surrendering. A surrendering of myself as separate from the whole. I, that is, me, myself, and I, am going to die. I have to die, to myself. That is the way of nature. Nature has its ebb and flow. Life flows. Death ebbs. Both have to happen. We know this. The Master knows this.
Once you surrender to nature’s ebb and flow, you have nothing left to hold on to. All the illusions in your mind, like the phantom of fear, are gone. And, with them gone, all the resistances in your body are gone, as well. You have surrendered to whatever the moment brings. You are not your own separate self any longer. You are one with the Tao. You go with the flow; and, when the time comes, you will go with the ebb.
In the last few days, we have been talking about how not-knowing and not-doing are entwined together. Here, we have the Master portraying how this works. His mind has been emptied of all illusions. He doesn’t think about his actions. They flow from the core of his being. His body offers no resistances to this. His actions simply flow. Intuitively. Effortlessly.
He holds nothing back from living. That is the only way to be prepared for death. It is coming. But not now. Not until after a good day of work. Then you will be ready for sleep.