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Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Tao of Death

I am not fond of "Tao of " interpretations of wisdom that has already been well expressed from well before the Tao Te Ching through the classics of the Taoist canon. And there are so many annoying modern "Tao of's": new age spiritual, post-positivist philosophical, Jungian psychological, holographic metaphysical, quantum mechanical, holistic health maintenance, biofeedback stress management,  ecological-economic, MBO leadership, Pooh and Yoda and Lebowski Dudeism.  On and on.  Well, Tao is everywhere (and nowhere).  We all claim it and no one owns it.

But a recent discussion about death and Tao and some Taoists' approaches to (or apprehensions about) this crucial transformation, specifically via classic Quanzhen neidan practices,  compels me to quote something here from William Martin's "The Sage's Tao Te Ching.  It's a Tao of Aging (or sage-ing, which is hard to distinguish from sagging, especially when I look in the 10X magnifying mirror).  I have mixed feelings about it.  Billed as "Ancient Advice for the Second Half of Life," it is endorsed by none other than second-wave Taoist Chungliang Al Huang, so I suppose it has some degree of credibility.

Death is Our Companion

Death is the companion of every sage,
a friend who shares our path with us
and who provides a welcome
at our journey's end.

This friendship seems unnatural to many,
but it is a source of great wisdom.
Cultivating this friendship requires courage,
honesty, and openness.
We must visit the dark regions of our mind,
the places where our unnamed fears reside.
There we must wait until these fears dissolve.
Then we will return with a light 
that will illumine the rest of our path. 

Befriending death is not morbid.
It is not depressing.
It is not giving up on living.
It is merely accepting the natural boundary
given to life for our benefit.
It is up to you to shine a light
upon the path of life
so those who follow you
might walk without fear.

This is an interpretive twist of TTC 16,  of which Li Jung comments (in Red Pine's TTC), "Sages enjoy life without limits."   One of the limits is death, or at least, the anxiety about it.  Taoists take measures to   not be limited in life by death.

4 comments:

Cym said...

Good quote. Thanks for highlighting that post over at TRT, though truthfully, reading it and the comments only reminded me of why I stopped reading. It's so same old same old: overly tedious and preachy.

baroness radon said...

Some things don't change. It was a lesson for me.

Kerry Brian Davidson said...

Thank you for posting this, there are some similar perspectives in Zen that take that sort of tack.

baroness radon said...

Thank you for reading, KBD. Yes, lots of overlap of Taoism and Zen. But then there aren't really any boundaries anywhere!