Death & The Tao – Chuang Tzu for Spiritual Progressives

Spiritual Progressives who have studied some Eastern philosophy are no doubt familiar with Lao Tzu, whose book the Tao Te Ching (The Way of Nature & Its Power) established the religion of Taoism. Not so many though are familiar with the second great teacher of Taoism, Chuang Tzu, who more than anyone preserved Taoism from the encroachments of Confucianism. One of the most memorable stories about Chuang Tzu surrounds the death of his wife, and now follows.

After Chuang Tzu’s wife died, his friend Hui Tzu went to his house to console him. When he got there, he found Chuang Tzu sitting on the ground, banging on a drum, and singing joyfully.

“This is too much!” exclaimed Hui Tzu. “To live with your wife and raise a son together, then not shed a tear after you’ve buried her in the ground, that would be bad enough, but to drum and sing! Surely, this is going too far!”

“Not at all,” replied Chuang Tzu. “When she died, I could not help being saddened by her death. But soon I remembered that she already existed as a spirit without substance or form. Substance was later added to that spirit, and her next stage was birth, after which she grew to become the person that I knew and loved. Now, by virtue of another change, she is dead, passing from one phase to another as spring turns to summer, fall, and then winter. Since she has passed into the next phase of life, for me to go about weeping and wailing would show that I am ignorant of the way of nature. Therefore, I refrain.”

Jesus of Nazareth took a similar view towards death, as is shown in the Gospel of Luke:

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Jesus said: “Follow me.” “Let me first go and bury my father,” said the man. But Jesus said: “Leave the dead to bury their dead; but go yourself and carry far and wide the gospel of the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-60)

By living joyfully after his wife’s death, Chuang Tzu was carrying the gospel of Christ, and honoring both his wife and God.