by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
Don't let the “I” in the title above scare you — I am only assuming I'll be returning to this topic. It is, after all, one of considerable interest to us all. The inevitability of death is at least one thing we all have in common.
Zhuangzi tells us that the sage sees "life and death as a single thread". What does this mean? Answers come readily to mind. But they do not entirely satisfy. Perhaps that is because I am not a sage.
It is all well and good to say, as I had Chen Jen do, that "life and death are equal/ life and death are one". But to say it is something altogether different from it having penetrated and permeated one's conscious being in the world. Yet we must begin where we are.
So yes, what Zhuangzi seems to be saying is that life and death are equal and the same. This idea alone is a worthy subject for rumination; little more need be said. Can you see it? Do you sense the transcendent freedom it suggests? Where does it stick in your craw? What holds you back from embracing it? It is here that we begin to understand.
Presently 'having' life, we tend to think that we have a life to lose. But what if we had no egoic "I" with which to possess life, or anything else? What would there be to lose?
Buddhism tends to contrast birth and death. In this way, it is assumed there is a something born and a something dead, so death is not the end, nor birth the beginning. A popular contemporary teacher tells us that "the opposite of death is not life, but birth." This is reassuring, I suppose, if you can will to believe it. But from a Zhuangzian perspective it is really just another "pot of Buddha-flesh" and robs us of the true value of death to our honest being in the world.
This is the honesty of simply not-knowing. And the Taoist response to this reality is to take the whole bundle of life and death and entrust it to...Mystery. Release. Trust. Freedom. Burden-less wandering. These are what arise from letting life and death be a single thread.
Don't hide your boat in the swamp, Zhuangzi tells us. Hide it the vast, broad world where it can never be lost — even when dissolved at the bottom of the sea.
You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.