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.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 76, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Today Lao Tzu talks about life and death. The living are soft and supple, tender, and pliant. While the dead are stiff and hard, brittle and dry. This is a metaphor, not for the dead, but for the living. At least we should be living. But are we?
We, the living, may in fact be disciples of death. Are we stiff and inflexible? When the winds of change are upon us, do we try to stand fast against the wind, and hold on to the past. Things that always were only transient things; but we got comfortable with them. We have grown accustomed to them. We aren’t ready to let go.
Lao Tzu is hearkening back to a couple chapters ago when he was talking about the nothing that we try to hold on to. All things change; but disciples of death, will fight it to the bitter end. But what is it they are holding on to? A wisp. A phantom. Nothing. They may be living; but they are already among the dead and decaying.
How very different are disciples of life. They are soft and yielding. They are ready for the inevitable changing winds. They are ready. And, there is nothing they can’t achieve.