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)
Whatever the Moment Brings
Today’s chapter is one where Stephen Mitchell presents a rather unique interpretation. Unique, only because he pretty much ignores the repeated Chinese phrase “shih-yu-san.” But, because I have access to other translations which follow a bit more closely the original Chinese, we are going to address that particular phrase.
Here is Robert Brookes’ interpretation, which translates the Chinese “shih-yu-san,” three in ten.
“You originate in life, but always return to death.
Three in ten people focus too much on extending life.
Three in ten people focus too much on fearing death.
Three in ten people focus on living life to the fullest
and thus find an early death. Why is this so?
Because such people live to excess.
It is said of the one in ten who successfully preserve their life:
When traveling they do not fear the wild buffalo or the tiger.
When in the battlefield they avoid armor and weapons.
The wild buffalo can find no place to pitch its horns,
the tiger can find no place to sink its claws,
the soldier can find no place to thrust his sword.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death in his life.”
Okay, what is Lao Tzu teaching us, here?
In the last couple of days, Lao Tzu has talked about finally arriving at no action, and no mind. Today, he is talking about the delicate balance between life and death. What, I think, the Master attains is a state of no life and no death.
Robert Brookes talks about how nine in ten people experience a premature death, because they live life to excess. Either they focus too much on extending their life, or focus too much on fearing death, or focus too much on living life to the fullest. Each of these are extremes of one sort or another. A preoccupation with life, or a preoccupation with death. The Master is the one in ten who doesn’t live to excess. The one in ten who doesn’t focus on either life or death. And, because they have attained this state of no life and no death, they preserve their life.
I would say that the state of no life and no death is a state of mind; but, of course, the Master has “no mind,”, so it goes much deeper than that. It is who the Master is in the core of their being. It is a state of perfect harmony with the Tao.
As Stephen Mitchell says, you have given yourself up to whatever the moment brings. There is nothing you have left to hold on to. No illusions in your mind. No resistances in your body. All your actions simply flow from the core of your being, without any conscious effort or thinking involved.
“Whatever the moment brings” means neither life, nor death, could ever catch such a one unprepared for it.