Jen said, "Then let me try telling you about a way to keep from dying. In the eastern sea there is a bird and its name is Listless. It flutters and flounces but seems to be quite helpless. It must be boosted and pulled before it can get into the air, pushed and shoved before it can get back to its nest. It never dares to be the first to advance, never dares to be the last to retreat. At feeding time, it never ventures to take the first bite, but picks only at the leftovers. So, when it flies in file, it never gets pushed aside, nor do other creatures such as men ever do it any harm. In this way it escapes disaster.The form of life dies and I don't see any way of "curing" that. It is the way of the universe. Beings are born and then die...which provides the foundation for other lives to spring forth.
"The straight-trunked tree is the first to be felled; the well of sweet water is the first to run dry. And you, now – you show off your wisdom in order to astound the ignorant, work at your good conduct in order to distinguish yourself from the disreputable, going around bright and shining as though you were carrying the sun and moon in your hand! That's why you can't escape!
'I have heard the Man of Great Completion say: `Boasts are a sign of no success; success once won faces overthrow; fame once won faces ruin.' Who can rid himself of success and fame, return and join the common run of men? His Way flows abroad, but he does not rest in brightness; his Virtue' moves, but he does not dwell in fame. Vacant, addled, he seems close to madness. Wiping out his footprints, sloughing off his power, he does not work for success or fame. So he has no cause to blame other men, nor other men to blame him. The Perfect Man wants no repute. Why then do you delight in it so?"
"Excellent!" exclaimed Confucius. Then he said good-bye to his friends and associates, dismissed his disciples, and retired to the great swamp, wearing furs and coarse cloth and living on acorns and chestnuts. He could walk among the animals without alarming their herds, walk among the birds without alarming their flocks. If even the birds and beasts did not resent him, how much less would men!
~ Burton Watson translation ~
For me, I think Jen is referring to emotional or psychological death. As long as we remain engaged in the world beyond the egoic sense of self, we can never die. Our energy or essence will continue to soar, even once our bodies are no more.
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