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)
Neither Mind, Nor Body
Today’s chapter is merely a continuation of what Lao Tzu was saying in the previous one. However, in today’s chapter, Lao Tzu makes it a matter of life and death. So, I am going to spend a bit more time on today’s chapter than I did yesterday’s.
Remember, in yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu said that a master at the art of living in harmony with the Tao has arrived at a state of no mind. They have let go of all illusions their minds may want to entertain, having emptied their minds of them. What are these illusions? There are a variety of them. They come in all shapes, colors, and sizes. The one he talked about in yesterday’s chapter is the illusion of having a made-up mind. Freed from this illusion, you can work with whatever other people may be thinking.
But, there are plenty of other illusions we need to empty from our minds. One such illusion concerns the finality of death. This, he addresses, today.
Lao Tzu tells us, masters know they are going to die. This knowledge doesn’t result in fear of death. That is an illusion. We only fear death because we “think” death is final. But, notice how the Master views death, how such a one is ready for death: Like someone ready for sleep after a good day’s work.
In portraying death as sleep, Lao Tzu is doing something more than providing a comforting euphemism to allay our fear. He is portraying death as a simple, and natural, part of the cycle of life. Sleep is vital for us, if we are going to go on living. And, death is just as vital.
In fact, Lao Tzu has talked of this before, back in chapter 22: “If you want to be reborn, let yourself die.” What Lao Tzu is talking about is the life cycle. Death isn’t final. It is followed by rebirth. And, we can see it repeated in nature. Life followed by death, followed by new life. The sun sets, but it also rises. The moon sets, but it also rises. Seasons change. Fall is followed by winter is followed by spring. Death happens all around us. All of the time. And, then, rebirth. Some rebirths take a long time. But death only lasts for a season.
So, stop fearing it. Give yourself up to whatever the moment might bring. Let go of all illusions in your mind, until there is nothing left to hold on to.
But, that is only the mind part of the chapter. There is also the resistance our bodies offer, with which we must deal.
The good news is that the body’s resistance is very much tied to the illusions in our mind. Having let go of the one, we can easily let go of the other.
I am pretty sure that you can remember a time when your body jerked, as it caught itself when it “thought” you were falling. That is an example of your body resisting.
But, we need to be free of these body resistances, as well. Giving your self up to whatever the moment may bring; having nothing left to hold on to, you don’t have to think about your actions. They simply flow from the core of your being.
Neither mind, nor body offering up any resistance to living life to its fullest. You hold nothing back from life. It is a life of spontaneity, doing without doing; and, it is one led by the intuition, knowing without knowing. Then, you truly are ready for death. And, you will find it is as natural as sleeping after a good day’s work.