Tao Te Ching
THE TAOISM OF LAO TZU
Tao Te Ching
Is there any driving force in man surpassing that of fear? We struggle all our lives to master it, and to avoid anything that brings it about. Fear rules our existence to the extent that there are few things we do without it being one of our reasons, more often than not the most important one.
We worry about not getting what we want, and dread losing what we have. We lock our doors, we arm ourselves, we choose our friends carefully and scrutinize them constantly, we keep strangers off, we fill our everyday lives with numerous precautions, and still we worry about what the future might bring.
Safety first, we say, making our controlled environment a rigidly enclosed area that may keep danger out, but definitely also locks ourselves in. Fleeing from our fear, we make our lives more and more of an imprisonment.
The death we fear is that of the body. We know nothing else for certain. Our bodies will cease to function and then decay. What happens next is a mystery to us. So, maybe the fear that clings to us through all our lives is not that of death, but of what it will lead to. We want to keep it off, as long as we can, because we don't want to replace something known with what's totally unknown. At the moment of death, what replaces our bodily existence, if anything?
This is expressed by Hamlet in William Shakespeare's drama, when the prince speaks about being or not being. What makes him hesitate to commit suicide is not the thought of complete annihilation, but the possibility of somehow having his consciousness live on – forever: "To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub. For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause."
So we guard this mortal coil with desperation. We are obsessed with our bodies. Their demands make us dependent, and their fragility makes us fearful. If our bodies were not so precious to us, we would have nothing to protect. There would be few things we would fear losing, because only things of the body can be stripped off of it. Neither praise nor disgrace will stick to us if we don't value the body, the physical entity to which they are connected. The same is true for honor as well as distress.
The body is vulnerable. The more important it is to us, the more vulnerable we will be.
He will be hesitant in his rule and consider everything very carefully before taking action. He will tend to inflict on his realm as little as possible. This is exactly how Lao Tzu prefers a ruler to be.
Because he worries about the world around him as much as he worries about his own body, such a ruler will be cautious. Then he will do little harm.
Not only rulers should live by this code, but every one of whatever means. If we treat our surroundings with the same care and love as we have for our own bodies, then we are unlikely to cause trouble or damage.
So, Lao Tzu regards the fear we have as an asset, as long as we are aware of its cause and act accordingly. We should aim to preserve the world as we do our bodies. In that way, fear is a good thing. It keeps us alert and cautious, and it helps us set things in their right perspective.
By one simple question, we can stop ourselves from numerous follies that we might otherwise indulge in unwittingly: Is this worth dying for?
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