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August 02, 2010


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Hello Professor Crane,

Although I have to admit I am completely unaware of other passages in the Tao Te Ching, I was wondering if one could interpret the line - "encompass the whole of life" - in a slightly different way.

Personally, I think that "encompass the whole of life" is different from saying 'living in the present', as you point out in your post. Here's my logic:

Initially, the passage says "People born into life enter death", which to me suggests that life and death are the part of the same continuum. That, say, the "whole" life of a soul (or, the one who lives), encompasses the life it lives when it is in the body, and the life it lives when it is without it. I guess my understanding of this line is affected by my own understanding of the concept of the immortality of the soul in Hindu philosophy.

With this in mind, I wanted to come to the line "think life is the fullness of life"; I agree with you when you talk about the distinction that we create between life and death. The phrase, in essence, seems to talk about our ignorance in equating the life we live in our body (the 'first' 'life' in the phrase) to being the only life that we live (and so we consider it to be our "full life"). In line with my earlier contention, it seems to me that this phrase is trying to suggest to us to think of a "full life" as having both the animate stage and the in-animate stage, and not to think of the "fullness of life" as only relating to our bodily existence.

Again, with all these considerations in mind, it seems to me that when the text says "encompass the whole of life", it suggests that we should understand that life is not merely about the present animate stage but that there is something beyond; we were 'living' before we were born and we will go on 'living' after our body gives way. This seems to be different from saying 'we should live in the present' or "we (should) give ourselves to the natural unfolding of life", as you point out.

Once we realize that 'life' encompasses an animate and an inanimate aspect, we have no kill-spot because we can never be killed. Life, in it's fullest sense, can never be taken away from us.

Feel free to correct me Professor. But this post made for very a interesting read.

I hope your summer is going well.



Very interesting points. And I think you have a good sense of the Daoist notion of life. But I would hesitate to extend the "fullness" of life idea too far - at least I don't think Daoism would extend it as far as Hinduism. That is, while, yes, a Daoist would question the distinction between life and death, animate and inanimate, being and non-being, there is no expectation of a previous or next "life." At least not for a philosophical Daoist. There's no karma. But there is a continuing and endless unfolding of Way, in which the physical stuff of our body is, after death, dispersed. We go on "living" only in the sense that the dust of our bodies might randomly mix with other molecules to form some new physical presence. Not quite the same as reincarnation....

Hello Professor!

The sense that "we go on living only in the sense that the dust of our bodies might randomly mix with other molecules to form some new physical presence" is very interesting (and, might I add, something quite novel to me) indeed.

Yet this does make me think about how Daoists would respond to the question(s): What does it mean to die? When they say the body is the kill-site, what is it a kill-site of? Who dies, if, upon being sliced by a blade, you keep on "living", in some "new physical presence" like you mention?

Let me try to explore this issue a bit myself as well: the most convenient way for me to resolve this confusion would be to assume a duality between soul and body, that when the body is sliced by a blade, the soul keeps on living. But is there a concept of this duality in Daoism? Based on what you've mentioned in your response, the answer, it would seem, is that such a duality does not exist - that the individual who lives is just the body. Maybe I am mistaken in making this conclusion.

But then again, how can the individual just be the body if, even after the death of the body, he goes on living through what was once a part of his body? Maybe we could say that the particles of the body do not die, but then if the particles do not die, then the body, which is a combination of all these particles, cannot possibly die as well right? It seems a bit paradoxical.

I'm sorry if this comment is not expressed particularly well. I am quite confused about the issues I have brought up which, I believe, would explain my lack of coherence. Haha!

But thank you for your response Professor!



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