As I mentioned early in Lent, I have been slowly reading Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching. Actually, I’m not sure the term translation captures what Mitchell has given us. His work is often highly paraphrased, and sometimes it goes way beyond paraphrase, becoming a fresh expression of his interpretation of the gist of a chapter. Chapter 50, on the subject of life and death, is a difficult chapter, and even attempts at literal translation can vary widely. Most translations involve the number thirteen, tigers, rhinos, and armor – like these three translations. But Mitchell skips all of these. Instead he gives us a description of the Master who accepts the inevitability of death and is therefore not afraid to live. It reminds me of nothing so much as Christ in his last days. Without further ado . . .
The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work.