Life and death form a part of the transformation processes, which constitute the Taoist world. Death, as much as life, belongs to the realm of "naturalness," that which is "so of itself".
Tao means literally possessing spiritual essences in one's body. So long as they remain in the body, death simply cannot happen which repositions the commentary from cosmology and religion to focus on Taoist practical philosophy.
In what sense can "naturalness" be said to complement "long life" Two separate claims need to be distinguished here. On the one hand, if the concept of naturalness is taken seriously, any attempt to prolong life by artificial means is doomed to failure and must be rejected. On the other hand, if careful steps are not taken to preserve life, the natural flow of things is also interrupted. The natural life span of an individual, given the cosmological underpinning of the commentary, is evidently determined by one's energy endowment. Individual differences notwithstanding, human beings have been given a proper "mandate" to prosper and live long while the energy could be in any form.
There are, however, obstacles, which may jeopardize one's natural longevity. If the body is destroyed, the "five spirits" disperse; if the body is harmed, the spirits hasten their departure. For this reason, the body must be well taken care of, and the conditions, under which the vital essence may be adversely influenced, must be clearly identified. Actual longevity, in other words, reflects not only a richly endowed body but also a well-maintained abode of the spirits.
In attempting to explain to you the complex relationship between Tao, being, and nonbeing, I defers some words:
"Since the Tao is unnamable, it therefore cannot be comprised in words. But since we wish to speak about it, we are forced to give it some kind of designation. We therefore call it Tao, which is really not a name at all. That is to say, to call the Tao Tao, is not the same as to call a table table . . Tao is not itself a thing."
Tao cannot be compared to any cosmological supreme being. Tao is not a being but lies beyond shapes and features. In the context of the transition from a religion based on divination and sacrifice, centered on the ruling nobility, to recognition of the moral autonomy of the individual. The Tao-te-ching represents the voice of those who recognize the power of desirelessness, humility, passivity, lowliness, imperfection, stillness, and intuition.
I have linked mysticism with the cultivation of the human potential for good, not with union with an Absolute. Unlike Western philosophy, I have insisted to accept Chinese philosophy as a lived philosophy; its purpose is not simply to "acquire . . . knowledge," but to "develop . . . character".
I have debated several times with Girardot as his argument echoes the earlier issue concerning the relationship between Tao and concepts of God; he suggests that the distinction between the Tao-te-ching and later Taoism rests on false assumptions about the nature of religion. He further argues that the Tao-te-ching is a religious text