Musings of a Chinese Mystic
IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL
WHEN Lao Tzu died, Ch'in Shih went to mourn. He uttered three yells and departed.
A disciple asked him, saying: "Were you not our Master's friend?"
"I was," replied Ch'in Shih.
"And if so, do you consider that a sufficient expression of grief at his loss?" added the disciple.
"I do," said Ch'in Shih. "I had believed him to be the man of all men, but now I know that he was not. When I went in to mourn, I found old persons weeping as if for their children, young ones wailing as if for their mothers. And for him to have gained the attachment of those people in this way, he too must have uttered words which should not have been spoken, and dropped tears which should not have been shed, thus violating eternal principles, increasing the sum of human emotion, and forgetting the source from which his own life was received. The ancients called such emotions the trammels of mortality. The Master came, because it was his
time to be born; he went, because it was his time to die. For those who accept the phenomenon of birth and death in this sense, lamentation and sorrow have no place. The ancients spoke of death as of God cutting down a man suspended in the air. The fuel is consumed, but the fire may be transmitted, and we know not that it comes to an end.
To have attained to the human form must be always a source of joy. And then, to undergo countless transitions, with only the infinite to look forward to,--what incomparable bliss is that! Therefore it is that the truly wise rejoice in that which can never be lost, but endures alway.
A son must go whithersoever his parents bid him. Nature is no other than a man's parents. If she bid me die quickly, and I demur, then I am an unfilial son. She can do me no wrong. Tao gives me this form, this toil in manhood, this repose in old age, this rest in death. And surely that which is such a kind arbiter of my life is the best arbiter of my death.
Suppose that the boiling metal in a smelting-pot were to bubble up and say: "Make of me an Excalibur"; I think the caster would reject that metal as uncanny. And if a sinner like
myself were to say to God: "Make of me a man, make of me a man"; I think he too would reject me as uncanny. The universe is the smelting-pot, and God is the caster. I shall go whithersoever I am sent, to wake unconscious of the past, as a man wakes from a dreamless sleep.
Chuang Tzu one day saw an empty skull, bleached, but still preserving its shape. Striking it with his riding-whip, he said: "Wert thou once some ambitious citizen whose inordinate yearnings brought him to this pass?--some statesman who plunged his country into ruin and perished in the fray?--some wretch who left behind him a legacy of shame?--some beggar who died in the pangs of hunger and cold? Or didst thou reach this state by the natural course of old age?"
When he had finished speaking, he took the skull and, placing it under his head as a pillow, went to sleep. In the night he dreamt that the skull appeared to him and said: "You speak well, sir; but all you say has reference to the life of mortals, and to mortal troubles. In death there are none of these. Would you like to hear about death?"
Chuang Tzu having replied in the affirmative, the skull began: "In death there is no sovereign above, and no subject below. The workings of the four seasons are unknown. Our existences
are bounded only by eternity. The happiness of a king among men cannot exceed that which we enjoy."
Chuang Tzu, however, was not convinced, and said: "Were I to prevail upon God to allow your body to be born again, and your bones and flesh to be renewed, so that you could return to your parents, to your wife, and to the friends of your youth,--would you be willing?"
At this the skull opened its eyes wide and knitted its brows and said: "How should I cast aside happiness greater than that of a king, and mingle once again in the toils and troubles of mortality?"