Friday, July 23, 2010

Zhuangzi - Moving On

Chuang Tzu's wife died. When Hui Tzu went to convey his condolences, he found Chuang Tzu sitting with his legs sprawled out, pounding on a tub and singing. "You lived with her, she brought up your children and grew old," said Hui Tzu. "It should be enough simply not to weep at her death. But pounding on a tub and singing - this is going too far, isn't it?"

Chuang Tzu said, "You're wrong. When she first died, do you think I didn't grieve like anyone else? But I looked back to her beginning and the time before she was born. Not only the time before she was born, but the time before she had a body. Not only the time before she had a body, but the time before she had a spirit. In the midst of the jumble of wonder and mystery a change took place and she had a spirit. Another change and she had a body. Another change and she was born. Now there's been another change and she's dead. It's just like the progression of the four seasons, spring, summer, fall, winter.

"Now she's going to lie down peacefully in a vast room. If I were to follow after her bawling and sobbing, it would show that I don't understand anything about fate. So I stopped."
~ from Chapter 18, Burton Watson Translation ~
The first time I read the Zhuangzi, this was one of the passages that took me aback. Making merry after the death of a loved one? What kind of a philosophy is this?

On further reflection, however, I began to realize that Chuang Tzu was doing nothing more than making a real life observation. In time, after the death of a loved one, most of us move on with life. If we want to live, there really is no other choice.

At the outset, we each mourn the passing in our own way. Some people -- like me -- are very weepy and appear inconsolable. Some people are stoic and reflective. Other reactions include anger, a sense of abandonment, supreme loss and a feeling that our existence has become surreal. It can often take quite awhile to reestablish patterns of normalcy.

Little by little, we reemerge into the flow of life around us. We return to our everyday lives of work, family, leisure and contemplation. When in the throes of anguish, we may feel as if we will never know laughter again, but, in time, we laugh. In time, we smile again and we rediscover happiness and joy. Except for cases of unexpected and/or gruesome death (e.g., murder, war, a heart attack or disease at a young age, etc.), most of us soon find that we don't think about the deceased everyday. Their memory remains etched in our hearts, but their passing no longer resembles an open wound.

In our own time and in our own way, most of us are just like Chuang Tzu. We mourn, then we bang a drum and sing.

Death is a fact of life. The longer a person lives, the more people we love and cherish will die around us. In order to continue living vibrant lives, we have to move on beyond death...until it claims us too.

To read more musings about the Zhuangzi, you can visit the index page for this ongoing series.

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