Men are born soft and supple;
dead, they are stiff and hard.
Plants are born tender and pliant;
dead, they are brittle and dry.
Thus whoever is stiff and inflexible
is a disciple of death.
Whoever is soft and yielding
is a disciple of life.
The hard and stiff will be broken.
The soft and supple will prevail.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
I don’t do this often enough; but, welcome to all my new followers. Yesterday’s chapter was certainly a boost; but, please stick around, there’s more to come. Just so you all know, I take a chapter from the Tao Te Ching, each and every day, and add my own commentary to it. I have been cycling through the eighty-one chapters since, I believe, 2012; and, somehow, each day I find something new to say about each chapter. With today’s chapter being chapter 76, we will soon be coming to the end of another cycle. I am already looking forward to the journey through again, with you all, from the beginning.
While yesterday’s chapter was overtly libertarian, today’s chapter is not. It is more a continuation of the chapter before yesterday’s, when Lao Tzu expressed the importance of realizing that all things change. That chapter confronted our fear of dying and attempts at trying to control things, like the future. Today’s chapter, provides the stark contrast between life and death, and enjoins us all to be disciples of life.
All things change! The cliché is that that is the only constant. Because all things change, we need to be disciples of life, who are soft and yielding, in order to go with the flow of life.
Lao Tzu gets the mental imagery going right off the bat, with talking about how soft and supple newborns are; and, then going on, to describe the onset of rigor mortis, once we have died. All living things represent this for us to observe. Even looking at plants, we see, when they first spring forth out of the soil, they are tender and pliant. But, once they are dead they become brittle and dry.
This is perfectly natural. It is natural for things to be soft and supple while alive, and stiff and hard once dead. But Lao Tzu isn’t telling us this, as part of some sort of science lesson. The point of these metaphors is to get us to recognize the importance of being a disciple of life while we are living, instead of being a disciple of death.
We were talking, a couple of chapters ago, about our fear of death. How ironic it is, then, that people who fear it so, most take on its attributes. Are you stiff and inflexible? Lao Tzu isn’t referring to physical attributes, here. Please understand the metaphor. He is talking about your ability to go with the flow, to be able to adapt to change. Because all things change, remember?
If you have become set in your ways, if things have to be just a certain way, you are setting yourself up for grave disappointment. And that word, grave, was not accidental. Businesses, institutions, governments, people. And, any examples I left out. All of these, on so many levels, must be able to adapt, or they will cease to be.
The hard and stiff will be broken. I said, today’s chapter is not overtly libertarian. But I would like to think the political class falls into this category. At the same time, the rest of us need to be even more inclined to be soft and supple, if we want to prevail.