Chapter 73: Daring to Do
“Brave daring leads to death.
Brave caution leads to life.
The choice can be the right one
or the wrong one.”
~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)
Today’s selection is a reminder that the mind is a wonderful thing to lose. It scrambles our conventional categories and catalyzes a number of confusions. Remember that from the Daoist—and Socratic—perspective, confusion is something to seek and exacerbate, not to flee and eradicate, because it is a birth pang of enlightenment. Confusion is not a sign that there is something wrong with you; it is a sign of what is wrong with you, and is therefore useful.
First, the brave would appear to be daring, not cautious, yet the text says it can be both.
Second, if brave daring leads to death, it doesn’t sound like a good choice.
Third, neither path—daring or caution, death or life—is the right choice.
How, then, not just to choose, but to understand the choices?
The choice behind the choices here is whether to be brave or not, and the implication is that all action demands bravery. LeGuin titles the chapter as she does, I suspect, because all doing worth a damn demands bravery.
Brave daring leads to the death and rebirth of the ego; as Jesus puts it, he who seeks to keep his life will lose it, while he who loses his life with gain it. Brave caution leads to the security of the self, that ocean of which the ego is a wave. Neither is right or wrong; what is wrong is thinking one is so.
Daring without bravery is the slave of desire, wanting the rewards of risk-taking without sacrifice, wanting change without giving anything up, wanting to surf waves that never crash. Conversely, caution without bravery is the slave of fear; fear of change, of what you cannot control, of waves and, therefore, water.
We all lean one way—toward motion or stillness, action or contemplation, freedom or security, daring or caution. The bravery is in knowing your spiritual posture, and gently tacking in the other direction, trusting the unknown. Every step, however sure-footed, is a step into the unknown; even, and perhaps especially, the step back. And sometimes, standing still is the riskiest thing of all.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.“