This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chapter 50: Beyond Life and Death

Life is a going forth; death is a returning home.

Of ten, three are seeking life, three are seeking death, and three are dying.

What is the reason? Because they live in life's experience. (Only one is immortal.)

I hear it said that the sage when he travels is never attacked by rhinoceros or tiger, and when coming among soldiers does not fear their weapons. The rhinoceros would find no place to horn him, nor the tiger a place for his claws, nor could soldiers wound him. What is the reason? Because he is invulnerable.

Tao te Ching Chapter 50


In and earlier chapter, the author discusses Immortality.   The suggested at that time that immortality is not an issue of a body that does not die but of returning naturally to the Dao.  It is as if we are water taken from the ocean in a bucket.  Sooner or later, whether poured back into the ocean or out onto the ground, that water will return to the ocean.  So too do we.  It can be said that the water in the bucket is actually still part of the ocean just as we, though we perceive ourselves as different are still part of the Tao.

This chapter returns to that theme.  It is interesting to speculate whether the author means literally to suggest that those steeped in the dao are protected from animal attack.  It seems clear that they are suggesting that only one in ten have discovered their true place in the Dao and so their immortality.

The first stanza points out the perception that we, as living humans perceive ourselves as separate from the Tao, our "home."

The second stanza can be seen to say that some struggle with living, some with dying, others with the secret desire to die.

The third stanza suggests that these people's struggle is because they have not seen through to the Dao.  It suggests that only one in ten have noticed their true, immortal nature as part of the Dao.

The fourth stanza is most curious, does the author mean to suggest that those steeped in Dao cannot be cut or injured.  This seems unlikely because wounds to the body are part of the struggles of life that the one who is immortal is beyond.  It can be suggested that the tenth person is not hurt because they have taken refuge in their true nature and so injuries to the body do not disturb their sense of peace.

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  1. I agree that the author is not suggesting that a Taoist sage could climb inside the bars at the local zoo and not expect the carnivores to rip him/her apart. That would be a fool's errand indeed!

    For me, I think he's merely pointing out that life and death are sides of the same coin. If one understands the unity between the two, what is there to fear?

  2. This is all quite new and honestly a bit stranger sounding. However, strange (as in foreign) as it may seem, something about it feels true, and I wonder ...does the toa teach at all, that we bring about what we think about? If so, then could this mean that if we fear the tiger, we create the attack (or something like that)?

  3. Hi Francine.

    The tao believes in natural consequences; if you hit someone they are likely to hit you back. It doesn't really believe in karma; if you were bad in the past bad things will happen now.

    This makes it seem unlikely to a Taoist that fearing tigers will make them attack you. Either you are in a place to be attacked or not.

    There is a related lesson called "The Law of Attraction." The Law of Attraction talks about the way we use our aversions and desires to build the world around us. The Law of Attraction would say something like; If the only thing you think about tigers is that they attack people, the only role the tiger can play in you life is as a threat. If you can deal with the danger and also see the beauty of tigers, you can do something positive like build a nature park that would benefit both you and the tiger.

    From this perspective, thinking about tiger attacks makes you more likely to experience one, not because of any mystic force but only because an attack is the only thing about tigers that you can deal with.

    Please remember the Buddha's advice, "Accept no teaching unless it is also true for you.