Men flow into life, and ebb into death.
Some are filled with life;
Some are empty with death;
Some hold fast to life, and thereby perish,
For life is an abstraction.
Those who are filled with life
Need not fear tigers and rhinos in the wilds,
Nor wear armour and shields in battle;
The rhinoceros finds no place in them for its horn,
The tiger no place for its claw,
The soldier no place for a weapon,
For death finds no place in them.
And by “men” Lao Tze means “people.”
I began to feel that the Taoists are right about life and death: we are never fully alive nor are we fully dead. When we are newly born infants we are vibrantly alive but all we are capable of is pissing on ourselves and spitting up our breakfast. By the time we’ve got ourselves together and have decided who we are, and collected a bunch of skills and friends, we are halfway through life. And then we stop living and become memories in the minds of our friends, and a few handfuls of dirt. But the memories are a form of life – as Richard Dawkins, the great philosopher, reminds us: we have become “memes.” Sorry, that’s just a little Taoist humor. Who gives a fuck what Richard Dawkins thinks about anything?
What does Lao Tze mean “Some hold fast to life and thereby perish”? It seems to me that he is saying a similar thing to Epicurus: if we seek safety and comfort, the means by which we try to achieve safety and comfort may become ends in themselves. Someone who uses inherited wealth or power to protect them self from having to confront the ups and downs of life may wake up one day, dead, realizing they never truly lived.