BASHO AND THE DAO VIII

I promised two more stories that further illustrate the nonchalance per death seen in this Neo-Daoist having a servant carry a shovel with which to bury him wherever he might drop. At the moment, I can remember but one, but that should suffice.-

Qin Shi went to the wake of his friend Laozi only to find his disciples engaged in excessive weeping and wailing. Having therefore left precipitously, he is accosted by one of these disciples who questions his love for the departed. Qin replies that he had hoped Laozi’s disciples would have grasped his message well enough to view death as a natural transition, as affirmable as life itself. He feared that he too might be caught up in such folly. (3:8)

Mourning excessively would be to “flee from the Heavenly and to turn away from how things are . . .” Sorrow there is at the loss of someone loved, but in identifying with “the vastest arrangement” through the unification of  life and death it is also informed by a broader perspective which tempers one’s grief.

As for Laozi, “When it came time to arrive, the master did just what the time required. When it came time to go, he followed along with the flow. Resting content in the time and finding his place in the flow, joy and sorrow had no way to seep in.” Joy and sorrow there are; only having been decoupled from their opposites they do not disturb his deeper peace; his joy in life depends on no circumstance, good or ill.

“The ancients called that ‘Liberation from the Lord’s Dangle’”. What is this dangle? Death and the uncertainties of its meaning and consequences. [I have applied it more generally to refer to the human condition generally—our “existential dangle”.] What is the liberation? Is it death itself, or the possibility of losing our fear of it? It is probably both. It is likely that death cures all ills, but we want to be careful not to think we can ever be fully liberated from our essential dangle. It is our being a-dangle that motivates and allows our soaring.

I have remembered the second story—that of Zhuangzi mourning for his wife. Huizi finds him making music on an improvised drum in the presence of her corpse and questions the propriety of such behavior. Zhuangzi replies that of course he cried at her departure, but then he imagined the larger context in which there was a time when she was not just as there is now a time when is no longer. She has returned to the Transforming Openness—and this too is good. (18)

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