Lao Tzu’s Funeral

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When Lao Dan died, Jin-I went to his funeral. He gave three shouts and walked out.

A disciple accosted him. “I thought you were the Master’s friend!”

“I was.”

“Then do you really think it’s proper to mourn him this way?”

“I do. I used to think of him as a great man, but no more. Just now when I went in to pay my respects, I saw old people crying as if they had just lost a son, and young people crying as if they’d lost their mother.

“In bringing them all together like this, surely he has led some people to say things they don’t really mean, and others to cry when they don’t really feel like crying. People who act like that are hiding from Heaven, turning away from their true nature. Ungrateful bastards! In the old days, they would have seen this kind of betrayal as its own punishment.

“In coming when he did, the Master was right on time. In leaving when he did, he was simply following the current. If you can wait calmly for the right moment and hold fast to the current, neither joy nor sorrow will ever unsettle your mind. The old-timers called this ‘being cut loose by God.’

“Do you cling to the firewood? When the fire passes from one piece to the next, do we not accept that ‘firewood’ has turned to ‘cinders’?”

Zhuangzi (Chuang-Tzu), Chapter 3

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This is my own version. Translations consulted include: Lin Yutang, Thomas Merton, Martin Palmer, Derek Lin and the Tao Study Group, Burton Watson, and A. C. Graham.

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