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UNIFORMITY OF BIRTH AND DEATH.
Birth and death are the great events of life. There is nothing greater in popular estimation. Confucian scholars have done much to encourage such an opinion. The Confucianists emphasised these two events and made of them the grand events of existence. Consider the multitudinous ceremonies traditionally bequeathed from one generation to another. These show that birth is to be rejoiced in and death is to be mourned over. May this not be a reversal of the proper order? Anyhow the popular view has won the day, and the observance of birth and death, as joy and sorrow, has become universal. Birth is welcomed and death is dreaded. Connected with these two events there are now established many rites and ceremonies, and the observance of these fulfils the human idea of civilization.
These rites have become onerous; for the growing boy has to perform innumerable ceremonies, from the day of birth to his marriage day. The wedding ceremonies are important. And in mourning for parents, the normal wife and the eldest son, there is a three years exclusion. Much of the life of the strict Confucian scholar is occupied with these rites. They occupy more of the attention of life than that given to social service. A succession of deaths in the family takes a period of 12 years, when all public service is barred. Such a view of life and waste of energies has been severely condemned by Mei Tzû, the great sociologist.
The Confucianist fails to recognise that birth and death is only a transformation, something like a silkworm. Life is a revolution; there is nothing for glorification and nothing for mourning.
Chuang Tzû, tells a story of one Li Chih, a beautiful girl of a small country, who was selected to be the wife of the Duke of Ts‛in. At the prospect she wept daily on p. xli her mother's breast. But after the wedding she was very happy in the new home,—so happy that she forgot her mother completely. And he makes this a parable of birth and death. So, when he lost his own wife, instead of the usual wailing and weeping, he began to sing. This astonished his friends, who were surprised at this uncommon and unusual attitude of a mourner. So he explained: "During her critical illness I could not but shed a few tears: but after her death I realised that she originally had no life. Not only so, she had no form: moreover she had no vitalism, ch‛i (air). In the vast void, there, she was changed to the positive of these negatives, and there was the vitalism state, the form-state, the life-state. And death induced the change. The four seasons, in their succession, are somewhat similar; they change and transform and develop but the unity persists through all changes. She is now lying in the big sleeping-room, and I began to weep and made such an unhappy sound, which I concluded was most unreasonable. Therefore, I am singing instead of monrning."
He has also another story about death and burial. When about to die, his disciples wished to have a sumptuous funeral for the master. But he declined their suggestion, and said "I have the heaven and earth for my coffin: I have the sun and moon for my jades: I have the stars and planets, as the pearls to fill my mouth. I have all things round as my funeral presents. Don't you think these are ample? And what can be added to these natural beauties, for funeral ceremonies"? His disciples replied, "but we are afraid the kites and the hawks will eat you: the eagle will pounce on you." "To be eaten by birds" he said, "is better than to be eaten by ants, in the bowels of the earth. You want to rob the birds and are partial to maggots."
The Taoists seem to have had a clear view of the meaning and significance of the change and flux in nature. It is akin to the modern scientific view that in the perpetual p. xlii changes, which matter undergoes, there is no actual loss of anything. The candle may burn out, but there has been no loss: change of form has been the only consequence. This truth was strenuously held, and possibly Chuang's view of death came from this consideration. There is a persistence and continuity in all things. But it does not seem quite clear whether they held the persistence of personality. I think perhaps they did. They affirm that spirit does not undergo the changes that matter does. Spirit never dies. Indeed, in one of the essays, there is a very imaginative piece of writing on this point; but whether it was the fancy of the individual writer or was the view generally held is not clear. This writer, following the theory held by the founders that spirit is more permanent than matter, imagines that material existence may be compared to a dream. When we dream, we feel it reality, and only on waking are we aware that the experience in sleep was only a passing show. So he imagines that this material life, in which we now spend our existence, is no more than a dream. It is when we pass out of it, through the great change of death, that we come to the reality and enter real existence. The present is shadowy and but the fabric of a dream. When this passes, we enter on the truer and more real state of being. And then there is the question of being and non-being. These have their sources in the Tao and find their unity there. And the relation is indicated by the word hsuan, profound.