Many 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 of these messages:
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?