"Death has no place in him."
Tao Te Ching - Chapter 50
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
We go from birth to death.
Three out of ten follow life.
Three out of ten follow death.
People who rush from birth to death
Are also three out of ten.
Why is that so?
Because they want to make too much of life.
I have heard that the one who knows how to live
Can wander through the land
Without encountering the rhinoceros or the tiger.
He passes the battlefield
Without being struck by weapons.
In him, the rhinoceros finds no opening for its horn.
The tiger finds no opening for its claws.
The soldiers find no opening for their blades.
Why is that so?
Death has no place in him.
How to Survive
How to live one's life is a complicated matter,
occupying most of the Tao Te Ching. But also, merely to stay alive is
difficult, and was even more so in the time of Lao Tzu.
This chapter talks about how to survive at all.
Three out of ten follow life, which means that they
reach old age. Three out of ten head for death. Lao Tzu
probably refers to the tragedy of so many children not even
reaching adulthood. Infant mortality was very high, actually all
the way to the last couple of centuries, in China as well as in
the Western world. The 30% should not be taken literally,
but the figure was probably not that far from the truth.
Another three out of ten hurry from birth to death,
in their desperation to make the most of it. Whether they
actually die young because of it is not as significant as their
incapacity to enjoy their lifespan. Whenever their
death arrives, they will feel that life passed too quickly. That's
the strange paradox of trying too hard to find the most time.
It will slip away.
That makes nine out of ten. The tenth is the one
who really knows how to relate to life, without
desperation. What you cherish, but don't struggle too hard to keep,
will not escape you. Life is like a cat. It enjoys your company
if you don't try to enslave it and don't get too attached to it.
People who have this relaxed relation to life don't
provoke death. Nor do they seek it. They walk through life
with the spirit of a visitor, who enjoys the experience but
doesn't for a moment expect it to last forever. They just live, as
long as that is the case, and then they die when the time
has come. They appreciate the former and accept the latter.
Without accepting death, they couldn't appreciate
life. Without appreciating life, they could not accept death.
The killers of the world, whether they are animals,
soldiers, or other threats, are not able to take aim at
somebody who is indifferent. Such a person will not be made a
target. To attack something, it has to have a defense. If not,
then what to attack?
Those who know how to live don't display the
intention of defending their lives by taking the lives of others, so
they are no threats. Since they are unwilling to defend their
lives, those lives seem to be of no value to others. Therefore
others are not eager to take them.
Those who never consider taking the lives of others
are no threats. So, there's no reason to attack them as some
kind of preventive defense. Actually, only those who worry
about death venture to impose it on others. And they are
particularly anxious to do it on those who also fear death.
Killing is mostly done for fear of death.
The ones who know how to live have no imminent
fear of death. It's not something that governs their attitude
or actions. Therefore it has no place in them. They just
live when they live, and die when they die – like the rest of
us, but without worrying so much about it.
© Stefan Stenudd.
Tao Te Ching Explained
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