15 years ago (!) I subscribed to an email list called The Daily Tao. Each day, I received a text-based email with an interpreted passage from the Tao Te Ching, and then the author’s comments about it. Here, in its entirety, is the one from July 7:
Don’t go out looking for good deeds to do,
But if one comes your way, do not refuse.
If you meet someone who is suffering,
You must help them.
What good is self-cultivation and wisdom if you just keep it for yourself? Knowledge is meant to be used, and if you can use it on behalf of others, you should.
There was once a man who prayed daily to a particular god among many in the temple. Eventually, he noticed that the incense he lit drifted all over — other gods were getting the benefit of his efforts! He built a paper cone over the incense burner so that all the smoke would be directed right at the nose of his god. Unfortunately, this turned the face of his god black with soot.
Those who follow Tao believe in using sixteen attributes on behalf of others: mercy, gentleness, patience, non-attachment, control, skill, joy, spiritual love, humility, reflection, restfulness, seriousness, effort, controlled emotion, magnanimity, and concentration. Whenever you need to help another, draw upon these qualities. Notice that self-sacrifice is not included in this list. You do not need to destroy yourself to help another. Your overall obligation is to complete your own journey along your personal Tao. As long as you can offer solace to others on your same path, you have done the best that you can.
There are many things that inspire me about this message but I want to focus on the idea that self-sacrifice is not one of the 16 attributes Taoists use on behalf of others. That’s very interesting to me. With it in mind, did Mr. Bookman actually make a sacrifice with his pitch to Death? Was he primarily helping the little girl?
I’ve come to think that he was primarily helping himself, doing exactly what he wanted to do in order to get the result he wanted. Does this involve a sacrifice?
Now I’m wondering what we all might mean by sacrifice. Does it ever exist?
Andy I have reflected on this question so much in my life. I always recognize what I often call selfishness when I perform acts of kindness for the benefit of others or when I help someone through a difficult situation, because it makes me feel so good. Yet, there is sacrifice involved always: of time, sometimes money, of spiritual energy – the list is varied and can go on and on.. However, the sacrifice serves both entities.
Per Bookman: I do think that Bookman was fulfilling his calling, his destiny. It was his time to go and his unwillingness to follow his own path brought the situation on in the first place. It was his responsibility to restore the natural order. And yet, still having to sacrifice his life. Sacrifice, too, is a part of the natural order and every action has an equal and opposite reaction. It is about balance and natural order and ultimately, we are all on the same path – each with our own direction and all roads converge and or stray at all times – but all are apart of balancing the journey.
Looking forward to opportunities to sacrifice today. Each sacrifice brings joy ultimately. 🙂
I would like to share a story about my 2nd mother-in-law. She and my father-in-law were only married for a month and a half before he died at 89. Anna and Virgil had no doubt that they wanted to marry even though his life was ending. They married despite real reservations on the part of his two children – legal issues particularily.
The last two weeks of his life Virgil was surrounded by a great deal of love, including me and my husband in the household with his father. During that time Anna and I got very close which we remained until her death. Anna told me somewhat later that she thought that she was supposed to be there to help Virgil in dying. There were times when the level of comfort she gave him was greater than it was with us his children even though they had only known each other a little over a year.
Did she make a sacrifice to ease the last months of his life? On one hand, I would say obviously not because she chose to be there for him, on the other she sacrificed a lot because it was very painful to watch a new love in her life die and then to continue hers alone. Maybe the more important question is what happened at the end of Virgil’s life because she chose to marry knowing he was dying. It was a win/win situation for both but also a lose/lose situation for both.
Perhaps it’s just getting bogged down in semantics, but I think “sacrifice” occurs when we do something expecting something in return. When we do something freely, just because it is the thing to do, then there’s no sacrifice involved (even when we DO receive something in return.)
I think it is all in the semantics, absolutely. Including connotation vs. denotation. I do think that there is loss involved with sacrifice. It is a loss of one thing for the sake of another. And it may not be apparent until after the fact. I do think, however, that we get hung up trying to find a different way to say loss as loss has a negative connotation. I believe that loss is necessary to balance and recognize gain. Balance. Loss can be very beautiful at its core, a part of balance which leads to harmony. Loss is a natural part of life.
Beautifully stated Carrie. I have been very aware of the same issues around “death.” We have difficulty discussing the death of a loved one and coping with it. It seems so benign to say to someone on a Fb post “I am so sorry for your loss.” I do not think people will ever be comfortable with death, but perhaps we have come a ways since the days of the Twilight Zone shows.