Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Tao Te Ching – Chapter 50

The chapter opens with an observation on dualism.

Going out into life, entering death

What causes this cycle of life and death?

Because attachment to life is intense

The character for intense has additional meanings of thick, solid, lavish. This contrasts with the description in the second part of the chapter, which is one of my favorite passages in the Tao Te Ching. The English translations cannot convey the rhythm, beauty, and poetry of the Chinese, but still there is a sense of wonder and intriguing mystery.

Those who sustain life well
Go forth without fear of wild buffalo or tiger
Enter battle without armor or weapons
Wild buffalo have nowhere to thrust their horns
Tigers have nowhere to sink their claws
Weapons have nowhere their blades can pierce
Why is this
Because there is no death place

The character for “place” means a literal place or location.

What could this mean, to have no place for death to enter? When I contemplate this passage, I’m reminded of the story about the young woman who wants to study martial arts but is afraid of getting hurt. The teacher stands across the room from her and asks, “If I’m standing here and you are standing over there, can I hurt you?” No, she says. He moves a few steps closer and repeats the question. Still no. This goes on until he is standing right in front of her and asks her one more time, “If I’m standing here and you are standing there, can I hurt you?” “Yes!” she exclaims. The teacher looks at her and says, “Then don’t be there.”

Does it mean that we should avoid danger and cower in a locked safe room? I don’t think so. The person described in this passage is not afraid, but walks boldly through life’s challenges with courage and joy. There is a sense of freedom, not fear.

This seems quite different from the solid thickness of an intense attachment to life portrayed in the first section. Does this mean that if we figure out how to live free of attachment, we will never die? There are Chinese legends of immortals, but I’m pretty sure that none of us will avoid the death of our physical bodies. All that manifests into form will return to formlessness. Our death is assured the moment we are born. This is the nature of duality.

There is a Buddhist practice of contemplating death and our own mortality. Our acceptance of the cycle of life and death allows us to live in freedom, without futile resistance to reality. Death has no place to enter, not because we won’t ever die but because we live in harmony with the movement of creation.

Like the monk, who sat serenely as a warrior brandished his weapon. “Why aren’t you afraid? Don’t you know I can run you through without blinking an eye?” demanded the warrior. The monk smiled and replied, “And I can be run through without blinking an eye.”

12 thoughts on “Tao Te Ching – Chapter 50”

  1. I always enjoy your Tao posts. I love how parts of it correlates to my beliefs.
    Yes, indeed, we all must die physcially. Because our spirit lives on until resurrection we don’t need tohave fear or doubts. We will be busy progresing in the spirit world. If we have faith in the knowledge that our body and spirit will re-unite someday; then that provides peace of mind.
    I don’t fear death it’s self. I only fear a little bit about the process of death. Since being a Hospice Nurse, I have witnessed many deaths. I would just like to die in my sleep.
    I do like the thought that accepting the cycle of life and death can bring us freedom.
    What brings me the most peace is knowing that our Heavenly Father has a plan for us and understanding that Plan of Salvation brings me peace.
    Sending loving thoughts and hugs! Have a beautiful Sabbath day, my friend.

  2. LeAnn, I had forgotten about your hospice nurse experience. Yes, you have an intimate knowledge with the life and death cycle. In a culture that often avoids the topic and goes to extreme measures to avoid the event itself (!), you have already gained much wisdom.

  3. There is freedom for our souls when we accept physical death as a part of life and living. For me, I give thanks for every day, for every breath, and try my best to live in the moment.
    Wonderful reflection, Galen!

  4. Another thoughtful post that reminds me to look for peace and serenity within myself. I too was a Hospice volunteer for several years, and the experience helped me come to terms with death. That, and losing two children and remembering them in positive ways. I feel very blessed with my life today, and that is indeed all that we have. Today. Thank you for being a light in the world. 🙂

  5. DJan, you could write the book on this one. You have seen death in personal, tragic ways. If you can make your peace with that, as you have, then you can live life in freedom and be a light for all you meet, as I know you are.

  6. When I went on a bereavment course a few years ago it was very clear there is so much fear of death and that even when a loved one dies, so much mourning, or indeed lasting inner/outer conflicts if their death left behind unresolved tensions. People like to soften death by calling it 'passing away'. Many live in fear of dying, so i fully agree that when you can accept the inevitability of your own death and that of your loved ones, it gives more freedom to live your life well while you are alive, and to do your utmost to get that right for yourself.Likewise you can be supportive of your loved ones doing the same for themselves. It's a kind of spirital responsibility to live according to your own nature,whilst being prepared for the fact that some die you will die and move on to 'somewhere'. We have to be vigilant though, because we are embedded in socio-cultural rules of living and received attachments which can pull us away from life and death wisdoms. Well I don't know where all that came from Galen, but another so engaging and thought provoking post!

  7. Wherever it came from, I'm glad you shared it, Lynne! I have a friend who facilitates gatherings called "Death Cafe." (You can google it.) It is very much what it sounds like — people get together in a relaxed social setting and talk about death. One of the things they discuss is the vocabulary of death, like "passing away" or "losing" someone. I haven't been to one of these gatherings, but the use of the term "cafe" inspired its use in the No Way Cafe.

  8. Brain, I'm so sorry — three of your comments that you left several weeks ago, along with some comments from other folks, popped up today out of nowhere. I apologize for the delay. You weren't being ignored!

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