'The Lord of Life' is the Tâo. It is to this that we are indebted for the origin of life and for the preservation of it. Though not a Personal Being, it is here spoken of as if it were,--'the Lord of Life;' just as in the preceding Book it is made to appear as 'a True Governor,' and 'a True Ruler.' But how can we nourish the Tâo? The reply is, By avoiding all striving to do so; by a passionless, unstraining performance of what we have to do in our position in life; simply allowing the Tâo to guide and nourish us, without doing anything to please ourselves or to counteract the tendency of our being to decay and death.
Par. 1 exhibits the injury arising from not thus nourishing the life, and sets forth the rule we are to pursue.
Par. 2 illustrates the observance of the rule by the perfect skill with which the cook of the ruler Wän-hui of Wei cut up the oxen for his employer without trouble to himself, or injury to his knife.
Par. 3 illustrates the result of a neglect of one of the cautions in par. 1 to a certain master of the Left, who had brought on himself dismemberment in the loss of one of his feet.
Par. 4 shows how even Lâo-dze had failed in nourishing 'the Lord of Life' by neglecting the other caution, and allowing in his good-doing an admixture of human feeling, which produced in his disciples a regard for him that was inconsistent with the nature of the Tâo, and made them wail for him excessively on his death. This is the most remarkable portion of the Book, and it is followed by a sentence which implies that the existence of man's spirit continues after death has taken place. His body is intended by the 'faggots' that are consumed by the fire. That fire represents the spirit which may be transferred elsewhere.
Some commentators dwell on the analogy between this and the Buddhistic transrotation of births; which latter teaching, however, they do not seem to understand. Others say that 'the nourishment of the Lord of Life' is simply acting as Yü did when he conveyed away the flooded waters 'by doing that which gave him no trouble;'--see Mencius, IV, ii, 26.
In Kwang-dze there are various other stories of the same character as that about king Wän-hui's cook,--e. g. XIX, 3 and XXII, 9. They are instances of the dexterity acquired by habit, and should hardly be pressed into the service of the doctrine of the Tâo.