Blessed Are Those Who Do Not Mourn

A story is told about Chuang Tzu, the Taoist philosopher.  His wife had died, after forty years of marriage, and a friend named Huizi came to offer condolences.  Walking into the house, he found Chuang Tzu playing drums on a wooden bowl and singing.  “What are you doing?” Huizi exclaimed.  “People will think you don’t care.  How can you sing when you should be in grief?”  “My wife and I had a good life together.  Death is inevitable,” Chuang Tzu replied.  “That’s why I don’t mourn.”

To Chuang Tzu’s mind, there was no sense in protesting what can’t be changed.  An end comes to all things.  Enjoy what you have, while you have it, and be ready to let go when the flow of life carries things away.  He was feeling good about having a forty year run with a loving partner.

Jesus displayed a similar attitude.  The Gospel of Luke mentions someone who wanted to become a disciple, but asked to first bury his recently deceased father.  Jesus told him to “let the dead bury the dead.  Your duty is to spread the news of God’s kingdom.”

The same man who said, “blessed are those who mourn,” doesn’t seem interested in the actual ceremony.  Instead, Jesus implies that people who are concerned with funerals don’t understand life.  There are more important things than death, just as the true source of sorrow is not the end of life.

On the surface of these stories, both Chuang Tzu and Jesus appear callous.  Huizi didn’t understand the insensitivity of his friend.  How could a spiritual master be so uncaring?  The man with the dead father isn’t reported to have stayed and become a follower.  Jesus sounded like a jerk.

But the underlying reality is different.  The love Chuang Tzu had for his wife, or that Jesus espoused for all people, is a selfless form of love.  Chuang Tzu loved his wife for who she was, not for what he received from her, and Jesus tells us all to offer the same to everyone.  Selflessness does not become attached to whatever is loved, because attachments are how we serve ourselves.  Rather than a love that pursues our own needs, clutching onto others, selfless love leaves the other free to be.  And that includes in death.

Funerals, as we know, are for the living.  They do nothing for the dead.  A formal burial service is not a requirement for entrance to heaven.  Jesus never received one.  They are intended to help the living let go, to release the clutches.  The ones left behind are the ones with attachments, and some never loosen their grip.

But expressing how much we miss someone is not the same as describing how much we loved them.  Love involves a different dynamic.  Selflessness cannot miss what it never had, just as we can’t possess anything we love.

And that is what Chuang Tzu and Jesus knew.


About Bucky Dann

I teach religion, sociology, and psychology at Southwestern Community College in the Smoky Mountains. I have worked in the United Methodist ministry and in the substance abuse field. I possess a Masters of Divinity, a Masters of Philosophy, and a PhD in the sociology of knowledge.

3 Responses to “Blessed Are Those Who Do Not Mourn”

  1. My Grandfather just passed away and I had 36 great years of memories. Thank you for this. It has helped me.

  2. I used to have a pastor, who would not let anyone attend a family member’s funeral or wake services unless they were also members of the church. I think what you stated is more the message that we are supposed to get. I can attend funerals for people I do not know, to be there for the family. However, my own family, I stopped going because I choose to not let those be my last memories of them.


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