Dao Du Jour II, Day 50: Yorick’s Last Laugh

Chapter 50: Love of Life

“To look for life 

is to find death.

The thirteen organs of our living

are the thirteen organs of our dying.

Why are the organs of our life 

where death enters us?

Because we hold too hard on to living.”

So I’ve heard 

if you live in the right way 

when you cross country 

you needn’t fear a mad bull or a tiger….

Why? Because there’s nowhere in you for death to enter.”

Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)

There are three attitudes to take toward one’s qi: squander it, husband it, or augment it. Only the latter two concern us. A common mistake is to suppose that Daoism is offering a path to immortality by building up one’s qi to become as powerful as possible, invulnerable against the mad bull and the tiger. Today, this ancient impulse hails under the banner of “Transhumanism.” In relation to Daoism, this is a kind of Gnostic heresy.

The preferred path is preservation, to practice a kind of negative efficiency: not to be as “productive” as possible—to be “killing it,” a common phrase nowadays whose significance warrants serious consideration—but to be as effective as possible by leveraging your power in the right places. This is done by recognizing that your power is not, strictly speaking, “yours”—it is a tiny trickle in the endless ocean of the world. To hold too hard on to living is Hamlet’s mistake: “take up arms” against this sea, and see it as a “sea of troubles.” To “live in the right way” is to move from the standpoint of the ocean, not that of the drop.

When you “cross country”—when you move through the world—you needn’t worry about mad bulls and tigers because you will not bother them. They will not feel threatened by you because you will not see them as threats. There’s nowhere in you for death to enter because you have already let it in.

Yorick the fool is the perfect foil for Hamlet the heavy. The fool is an expert at husbanding qi because he sees the inverted world—or rather, he sees the myriad ways the world is absurd, contradictory, puffed up, pretentious, empty, and false—and points it out. He pulls the rug out from under those building Babel, trying to win a finite game, straining their organs to escape the round. Like an acupuncturist, he locates the pressures points in the social body and releases squandered energy.

Yorick doesn’t dwell on such questions of life and death and immortality. By poking holes of fun in the argument for augmentation, he shows that there is plenty of qi to go around.

New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”