It is sad and depressing to watch the death toll mount from the terrible earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Perhaps we can take some solace from the fact that many lives were likely spared due to foresight and preparation. But his is a horrible turn of events.
The Daoist in me is reminded of the contingency of all life. We are, all of us, subject to devastating change at any moment. Fate can turn so quickly, and what we thought was solid and stable can be upended and smashed in the bat of an eye. Liezi gets at this:
Shun asked a minister:
"Can one succeed in possessing the Way?"
"Your own body is not your possession. How can you possess the Way?"
"If my own body is not mine, whose is it?"
"It is the shape lent to you by heaven and earth. Your life is not your possession; it is harmony between your forces, granted for a time by heaven and earth. Your nature and destiny are not your possessions; they are the course laid down for you by heaven and earth...Therefore, you travel without knowing where you go, stay without knowing what you cling to, are fed without knowing how. You are the breath of heaven and earth which goes to and fro; how can you ever possess it? (29-30)
Contingency and inevitability do not diminish or relieve and pain of loss that so many people in Japan are experiencing today. But they might remind the rest of us that we share with the victims the possibility of unexpected and tragic change at any moment...
Condolences to all....