Birth, old age, sickness and death, nobody can escape. From one form to another, we do not know the unknown future. Most people are scared of the unknown especially death, where do we go and is there life after death? If there is, what will happen to me after I died? The answer by most religion is the promise of a Heavenly Home. Is it true? How do we know?

 

 

Tao Living

The Crying Princess

by Derek Lin

Spring was Princess Li's favorite season. She loved the blooming flowers
in her garden and would spend hours walking there, taking in the colors
and savoring the fragrance.

Today, something was wrong. Instead of enjoying herself, she sat alone
and seemed unhappy. Mei, her handmaiden and companion since childhood,
grew concerned and decided to approach her: "Princess, forgive me for
intruding. Are you alright?"

"Oh, I'm fine, Mei. I am just thinking about my… engagement." Her father
the Duke announced in the morning that Princess Li was to be wedded to
the King of Jin in a few months.

"I heard the announcement as well. The Duke said it was very auspicious
and a great cause for celebration."

"For others, perhaps, but not for me. I have never met King Jin and I have
no idea what he is like. I love my life here with my flowers and have no wish
to leave…. Oh, how I dread the wedding!"

The sudden intensity of Princess Li's emotions surprised Mei. "Have you told your
father that you do not wish to marry him?"

"No. Jin is a powerful kingdom. Our alliance with them, cemented by marriage,
is something that will make us much stronger and more secure. It is my duty
to do it. I cannot avoid it."

"What will you do then, Princess?"

"The only thing I can - put it out of my mind as much as possible."

Time passed. As the wedding drew closer, Princess Li became increasingly anxious.
When the date finally came, she refused to come out of her room. This caused
quite a commotion. "Unacceptable!" The Duke was displeased. "Mei, you are the
only one she listens to. Go talk some sense into her. Quickly!"

Mei entered the inner chambers to discover the princess crying her eyes out.
"Princess, what are you doing? Everyone is waiting for you."

"I don't care! I won't marry him!"

Mei noticed that the princess had soaked her clothes in tears, so evidently she
had been crying for quite some time. "Princess, did you not tell me yourself that
this is something you cannot avoid?"

"You don't understand! I really, really don't want to go to the Jin Palace! I want
to stay here!"

Mei took a deep breath. She knew how to get through to the princess, but even
her ability and patience would be taxed to the limit this time. "Princess, you know
as well as I do that everything has been set in motion. We cannot put it off any
more than we can push back the waves of the ocean."

The princess snapped back and Mei responded with her soothing voice. After
several hours of this, the princess grew too tired to continue. She allowed herself
to be led to the royal carriage. Finally, the wedding party was able to get underway.
To the princess, the rest of the wedding went by like a blur.

After an initial period of adjustment, Princess Li grew accustomed to life in the Jin
Palace. The King treated her well and kept her in luxuries she had never experienced
before. The royal bed in particular was a marvel. When the princess slept on it, she
felt as if she was floating on air. Moreover, every meal at the Jin Palace was
spectacular. The princess had never tasted so many delicacies, cooked in so
many different ways.

Spring arrived again. Princess Li was delighted to discover beautiful flowers blooming
in the royal gardens of the Jin Palace. She wasted no time at all summoning Mei to
her side, so they could go exploring together.

"You seem to be in high spirits, Princess."

"I am! I cannot wait to walk amongst the flowers."

"How strange! Can this be the same person who really, really didn't want to be here?"

"Please don't remind me," Princess Li blushed. "I still cannot believe how foolish I was.
It's so wonderful here, I cannot understand why I was so afraid."

This story is not what it appears to be. Like many other stories from Chuang Tzu, it
uses metaphors to point to something deeper. It is not about a reluctant princess bride.
It is about all of us and how we approach life and death.

The life that the princess led prior to her marriage represents our mortal existence.
Just as she enjoyed spring and the blooming flowers, we too delight in the sensory
pleasures of the physical world. We enjoy life. We grow accustomed and attached to it.

The wedding represents death. For the princess, it meant an end to her carefree single
life. For us, death also seems like an ending point. This physical existence that we enjoy
will not last forever. Sooner or later, we will die.

This is not a comfortable thought to contemplate. Just as the princess felt unhappy
thinking about her upcoming wedding, we too feel a range of negative emotions when
we become aware of our own mortality. The power of this negativity corresponds to
the extent of our attachment to life.

For many of us, death is not just uncomfortable. It can be downright frightening.
Just think: awareness as we know it will cease. There will no longer be a "me" with
which to feel, to know and to experience the world. "I" will simply be no more. It
gives us the chills.

This is because of our fear of the unknown. Prior to the wedding, the princess had
never met the king and knew nothing more than hearsay about him. This filled her
with dread. In the same way, we have no certain knowledge about the hereafter.
Death is the great unknown. What is it like after we die? Heaven and Hell? Limbo?
Oblivion? Organized religions claim to have the answer, but everything depends on
faith, and we have no solid, physical proof.

We do know one thing with great certainty, and that is we cannot avoid death.
The princess understood that the marriage was not optional for her. She had to
go through with it no matter what. In the same way, rational thinking tells us that
death is inevitable. All living creatures die, and we're no exception.

We may choose to deal with this inevitability by not thinking about it. Just as the
princess tried to put the marriage out of her mind as much as possible, most of us
avoid considering or discussing the subject. Avoidance doesn't solve anything, but it
seems like the only thing we can do.

Wedding preparations for the princess proceeded regardless of her wishes. In the
same way, death comes closer and closer to us every day no matter what we do.
The older we get, the more frequently we feel the cold winds of mortality. Friends
and loved ones pass away, and on some level we realize that before too long our
turn will come.

Although the princess was fully aware of the impending marriage, that awareness
did not diminish her struggles when the date finally arrived. Shed cried and resisted
with all her might. In the same way, our intellectual understanding of mortality does
not lessen our overwhelming urge to stay alive. Few of us make the passage with
peace and calmness. For many of us, a powerful sense of revulsion against death
leads to intense denial and anger. We panic, blame, plead and lash out. We'll do
anything, just don't let us die!

In the end, the princess' tears and struggles were all for nothing. The wedding
proceeded as planned. The message here is clear: it won't matter how strongly
we resist and refuse to go along with death. Eventually we will surrender and
accept the reality of it, not necessarily because we've come to terms with it,
but because we have no choice.

The story does not stop here. After a while, the princess adjusted to life at her
new home. This is Chuang Tzu's gentle suggestion to us that death is not the end.
There is more. After the physical body stops functioning, the metaphysical self
moves on to the realm of pure consciousness. This is the luxurious palace and
our new home.

The delicacies that the princess enjoyed at the palace represent our rewards in
the hereafter. The karma we have created, good or bad, carry over with us as we
transition away from the earthly plane. If we have accumulated negativities, we
will need to deal with their consequences and make amends. If we have lived a
positive and meaningful life, then we will be able to enjoy the rewards we have
earned. There is nothing quite like the satisfaction of savoring the fruits of your labors.

The king's bed represents the state of immaterial existence unencumbered by physical
limitations. Just as the princess felt as if she was floating on air while sleeping in it,
souls in the spiritual realm enjoy the ultimate lightness of being. They need not bear
the hindrance of a body that can age, weaken and get sick.

The princess remembered, with some embarrassment, her crying struggles in resisting
the marriage. Similarly, if we were to look back on our fierce battles against death
from the perspective of the spiritual realm, we will also be able to see the foolishness
of our ways.

Through this story, Chuang Tzu is teaching us that we don't need to wait until after
we die to gain an enlightened perspective on life and death. That wisdom is available
to us here and now. It tells us that striving against death is unnecessary and futile.
Let death follow the natural course of events. Tao cultivators feel no need to fight
against or run from death, in order to keep it away at all costs.

At the same time, Tao cultivators also do not rush into death. They follow the Tao
of health to maintain their bodies in excellent working condition, so they can best carry
out their sacred tasks in life. They know that healthy bodies and lifestyle will lead to
what people consider remarkable longevity, but to them it is simply letting the body
live out its natural life span, with no hurry, no resistance and no strife.

At the deepest level of this story, we find Chuang Tzu's position on the fear of death.
The hereafter is still a mystery, and we have no more proof and certainty than before
because Chuang Tzu is not here to solve this riddle for us. He does not shed light on
death, nor does he turn the unknown into a known. Rather, he shows us that we don't
have to automatically link the unknown to fear. The unknown is not, by itself, a negative
thing. Without it, there can be no new discoveries or exciting adventures. It is only our
misconceptions and unfounded assumptions about it that cause us problems.

This demonstrates how Tao cultivators deal with fear. We need not deny it or suppress
it, because denial and suppression simply do not work. Instead, we acknowledge it,
accept it, and then thoroughly understand it. In the clarity of this understanding, the
fear dissolves naturally. This is what it means to traverse the Tao - walking through
the garden of life, taking in the flowers of wisdom and savoring freedom -
the freedom from fear.