“Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 50” by Lao Tzu

When one is out of Life, one is in Death. The companions of life are thirteen; the companions of Death are thirteen; and, when a living person moves into the Realm of Death, his companions are also thirteen. How is this? Because he draws upon the resources of Life too heavily.

It is said that he who knows well how to live meets no tigers or wild buffaloes on his road, and comes out from the battle-ground untouched by the weapons of war. For, in him, a buffalo would find no butt for his horns, a tiger nothing to lay his claws upon, and a weapon of war no place to admit its point. How is this? Because there is no room for Death in him.

So this passage completely baffles me. In addition, there seems to be differences in translation. When I tried to find some information online about this passage, I noticed that other translators did not use “thirteen,” but instead translated the text as “three out of ten,” or “three in ten.” Anyway, some of these sites interpret this passage as a guideline on how to live, that 3 out of 10 follow the path of life to old age, 3 out of 10 die right after birth, and 3 out of 10 rush through life toward death. This leaves only 1 in 10 who follow the true path of the Tao.

I’m not sure I buy this interpretation, but I have nothing better to offer. I guess it makes sense, but not from the Wu translation, which I am reading.

Anyway, if anyone has any insight into this passage, I’d love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.


Filed under Literature, Spiritual

7 responses to ““Tao Teh Ching: Chapter 50” by Lao Tzu

  1. Sorry to say that I can’t help you with this translation. What I sometimes resort to for troublesome terms in European languages is to look for other uses of the word in context, to try to capture that difficult facet of connotation for a non-native speaker.

    Alas for Chinese that sort of thing is hard to find on the Internet, and it’s doubly challenging when dealing with old writings.

    • Thanks for your comment, Frank. Yeah, translations are tough. I have to say that generally the Wu translation of this text has been great, but this one threw me for a loop. Have a great weekend, and thanks for stopping by.

  2. To me, it appears that the number refers to hours. Night and day each has twelve hours, night is dark and represents death, while day is bright and represents life. It also means there is balance between the two realms, also represented as consciousness and unconsciousness. And because he talks of 13 hours rather than 12, he asks the question why?, and proceeds to qualify himself. This may mean that there is always an additional/unseen hour, which may mean grace/luck/favour etc.

    In the second paragraph, we go to the realm of the archetype, the second bardo. In this realm, what we see is what lies/predominates our subconscious, and those who know how to live are able to avoid these monsters that threaten us, which signify the fears in us. Those who know how to live are those who know the process/dao/the way of moving between the physical and the heavenly Worlds.

    • Hmm. I like your interpretation, especially re the second stanza. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Cheers

      • Thanks Jeff. I cant tell you how happy I was to discover your blog, a treasure trove full of choicest foods and rare wines. Your site, I must say, points to that divine lady Juliet, who says “My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep; the more I give to thee, The more I have, for both are infinite.”
        Thank you for ushering us to such a place.

      • Thanks. I took a quick look at your blog this morning. Looks really interesting. I’ll explore more when I have more time. Cheers!

  3. No problem, will be glad to read your feedback especially how to improve it. I am still a novice and have much to learn. Cheers!