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 disciples of death and disciples of life. He has told us before that death is a natural and inevitable part of the life cycle. We shouldn’t fear it. Being afraid of dieing holds us back from truly living our lives. Not being afraid, frees you to live your life to its fullest.
We are all born soft and supple. That is how Lao Tzu describes the beginning of life. We are born that way. Plants are born that way. Indeed, all beings start out that way. Being soft and supple, tender and pliant; those are the attributes of living. Lao Tzu wants us to always be soft and yielding. This is what he means by being a disciple of life. And, as long as we remain soft and yielding we will always be alive.
It is our fear of dieing that makes us stiff and hard, brittle and dry. We fear it, so we become it. Even while we are very much alive, we have taken on the attributes of death. By being stiff and inflexible, we have become disciples of death. And, our fear becomes our reality.
I hope you understand that to the extent Lao Tzu is picturing physical attributes he is speaking metaphorically. If we see these only as physical attributes, we are merely concerning ourselves with the flower and not the fruit. We need to see beyond the surface and begin to plumb the depths.
How sad it is that the still living have become as if they were already dead. They were once so flexible. Able to go with the flow of the Universe. Letting things come and go as they will. What a shame it is to cease yielding. To become rigid. To try to hold on to fleeting things.
We are still needing to transition from merely knowing these truths to actually realizing them. Disciples of death will never realize these truths. They will die before their time. Only disciples of life will come to realize these truths. Living their lives to their fullest.