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)
Today’s chapter is timely, because we are coming to the end of another calendar year. We recently experienced another Solstice, which pagans marked as a death and rebirth of our Sun. And, because we have been talking about the “end” of the practice of the Tao. If today’s chapter seems morbid to you, with its talk about death and dieing, I would suggest we need a better understanding of the way things are in our Universe. To that end, Lao Tzu offers us today’s chapter.
It is really just a continuation of what we have been talking about for the last few days. Yesterday, Lao Tzu said, “The Master has no mind of her own.” He has been talking about letting go of a little something, each day, of our desire to be in control, of the need to force things. Today, he says, “The Master gives himself up to whatever the moment brings.” That is our focus in today’s chapter. Giving ourselves up, living life in the present moment, not holding anything back from living our lives to the fullest in each present moment. It is about being free. Remember, the Master didn’t become the Master in one giant leap. To arrive at this present moment, involved a series of smaller acts. You let go, one thing a time, one day at a time, until you arrive at this present moment.
We are all the same in this regard. Whether, or not, we are conscious of all the choices we have made to arrive at this present moment, we are here. All that is left is to make the most of it. That is the point of today’s chapter; so, when he says, “He knows that he is going to die”, he isn’t being morbid. He is merely stating what should be obvious to us, but usually isn’t. Death and dieing are very much a part of that “whatever” the moment may bring for us. Knowing that we are going to die is important. You could say, it is vital; if, we are going to be freed to live. And this knowledge can’t be a mere mental assent, like we all know we are going to die. It has to go much deeper than that. It is a realizing, that is life-changing. We have probably all heard stories of people who survived a close brush with death, and then began to experience life on a whole new level. This is what Lao Tzu wants us to appreciate. And, thankfully, it doesn’t take a close brush with death to come to this realization.
Still, we must come to this realization. That we are going to die. That we are ready for death. For only then, can we really live life to its fullest in this present moment. What are you still holding on to? That might be hard for us to immediately realize; but you can be sure it involves illusions in our mind and resistances in our body. Yes, we still are talking about the practice of knowing not-knowing and doing not-doing.
The Master has no illusions in his mind. What are these illusions? They are anything that competes with the eternal reality, the way things actually are. Here, Lao Tzu is talking about not thinking about our actions. It is the “no mind” Lao Tzu was talking about yesterday.
The Master has no resistances in his body. What are these resistances? They are anything that makes us hesitate, when we should act; or, do something, when we should do nothing. The picture in my own mind is when my body involuntarily jerks because it thinks I am falling. See, my body is still offering up resistance.
No resistances means all of your actions flow from the core of your being, without impediment. You don’t have to “think” about it. Your body just acts, effortlessly, intuitively, spontaneously. Nothing is held back from life, therefore you are ready for death.
Lao Tzu talks again and again about death because we don’t really understand death. We don’t realize it is just part of the life cycle. Death, to us, is final. That is a complete misunderstanding of how nature works, the way things are. Life is a series of recurring cycles, which include death and new birth. It happens all around us on a daily basis. And, we like to think we understand nature’s cycles; but somehow we don’t realize this applies to us, humans, as well. For us, death is it. Oh, we may hope to be reunited with our loved ones in some sweet by and by. But that is only an article of faith; it makes little difference how we go about living our lives in the here and now. But Lao Tzu wants us to view death as it is in reality, the eternal reality. He wants us ready for death like we are ready for sleep after a good day of work. Your work is done. It is time to sleep. But that isn’t the end.