From birth to death, three people out of ten are celebrators of Life. Three people out of ten are advocates of Death. The rest simply move numbly from cradle to grave. Why is this? Because they are overly protective of this life.
It is said that one who knows how to protect his life can walk freely without fear of the wild buffalo or tiger. He may meet an army bravely with neither sword nor shield. For the buffalo will find no place to sink its horns, the tiger finds no place to dig his claws, weapons find no soft place to pierce. Why? Because there is no place for death in him.
(Tao Teh King 50–Mabry translation)
In the twentieth century William Arthur Dunkerley, writing under the name of John Oxenham, wrote the following poem.
To every man there openeth
A Way, and Ways, and a Way,
And the High Soul climbs the High Way,
And the Low Soul gropes the Low,
And in between, on the misty flats,
The rest drift to and fro.
But to every man there openeth
A High Way, and a Low.
And every man decideth
The way his soul shall go.
He was writing a long time after Lao Tzu, but his insight was the same. Perhaps he was a Taoist in a previous life.
According to Lao Tzu, the human race can be divided into three groups.
The first are those who come out of the womb planning to live life. They may be wise or foolish in the way they go about it, the results along the way may be every kind imaginable, and their personal style may cover the entire spectrum of possibilities, but they live.
The second are self-destructive, determined to spend their life rushing toward its end in as direct a way as possible. As children they always have a bandage, a bruise or a scab or sometimes a cast on an arm or leg. All the childhood diseases in their most virulent forms occupy them in turn. Allergies are their first love. Their bodies are self-killing machines. These people do everything in life to injure, maim, distort, corrupt and ultimately destroy themselves. Some manage after only a few years of life and others take longer than most people live. They do not do this for enjoyment but for the misery of it. Self-loathing may motivate them or simple idiocy, but pain and agony will be the order of the day. These people cannot possibly be helped. Any good that comes into their life is seized and immediately transmuted into a tool for chaos and suffering, both for themselves and others. Any truth that accidentally get through into their heads is also instantly transformed into a form of delusion, fuel that makes their hell-fire burn more intensely. They run through life slashing and burning–usually themselves, but others are certainly going to be involved along the way. These people also may band together and raise more hell than could be done separately. The world itself is in peril from these. The only good thing about them is that they do eventually end by dying.
The third simply zombie their way through the world in a kind of comatose subsistence. They think nothing, they plan nothing, they do nothing and they are nothing. But they make great consumers and citizens and community workers and joiners and demonstrators for causes–causes which they cannot talk about or answer questions about because they do not really know anything about them. As I say, they just zombie along. They also raise children just like themselves and are absolutely average and normal in the most deadly sense. They also follow fads and fashions, not avidly but totally reflexively, unquestioningly. They really relate to brand names and like them on their clothing. As the poet says, in between on the misty flats they drift to and fro. Until they disappear. They don’t live and they don’t actually die, they kind of fade away or vaporize. People often do not know they are gone for years, if ever. They are forgotten before they are gone. As Lao Tzu explains they guard their life, they take safety measures, but never chances or risks, they get all their immunizations and follow all the rules. They are so protected nothing ever affects them, their whole environment is a kind of bubble that nothing much ever gets through, and certainly nothing upsetting or confusing. As I say, they just drift along until they are lost sight of.
Lao Tzu finally tells us that there are those who are at all times alive, so much so that neither death nor the things that lead to death seem to be aware of them. What is to be done is done by them with no injury whatsoever. There was a modern saint in Egypt named Abdul Messiah, Servant of Christ. He was an Ethiopian monk who lived in the desert and was the friend of all the desert wildlife including cobras who shared his cave with him. During World War II he used to walk nonchalantly between the Allies and the Axis forces that were shooting and tossing bombs and fire at each other. Bullets were flying and bombs were bursting and there was Abdul Messiah calmly walking on completely untouched. He was the kind of person Lao Tzu is describing. “Even as a man casts off his worn-out clothes and then clothes himself in others which are new, so the embodied casts off worn-out bodies and then enters into others which are new” (Bhagavad Gita 2:22). An immortal never really dies, just changes his clothing and then after a while he stops doing even that and does nothing but live.
Next in the Tao Teh King for Awakening: The Mystic Virtue