Daodejing Chapter 50 breakdown: the field of death

Richard Brown
2 min readJan 27, 2024

Chapter 50 of the Daodejing challenges you to recognise the inevitability of death and adopt a balanced approach to life, free from excessive fear or attachment, as the way to navigate the world peacefully and safely.

Section 1
Everyone passes
From birth to death,
One third are companions of life.
One third are companions of death.
One third cling so tightly to life,
That they enter the field of death.
Why is this so?
Because they set
Too much store by life.

The chapter opens with the observation that people have different approaches towards life and death and breaks them down into three broad categories.

“Companions of life” accept death as part of the natural cycle because they live in harmony with the Dao. As a result, they lead long and peaceful lives.

“Companions of death” already have one foot in the grave because they indulge in reckless or harmful behaviour, whether it is excessive drinking and eating or brawling and fighting. As a result, they lead short and unstable lives.

Members of the final group refuse to contemplate the prospect of death and cling so tightly to life that they lose their connection to the Dao and the flow of nature. By focusing solely on protecting their worldly status and wealth, they paradoxically make themselves more vulnerable to death at any time from rivals wanting to take them down or robbers attacking them for their jade and gold.

Section 2
It is said:
People who know how to live properly,
Travel the earth without
Encountering a rhinoceros or a tiger,
Go into battle without
Donning armour or weapons.
The rhinoceros finds no spot
To gore them with its horns.
The tiger finds no spot
To sink its claws into them.
The weapon finds no spot
To pierce them with its blade.
Why is this so?
Because they are not
In the field of death.

People who follow the Dao proceed through life without fear or harm, even in threatening situations, because they do not provoke aggression or conflict. They are absent from the “field of death” because they quietly go about their business and do not engage in behaviours that lead to unnecessary danger. By accepting death as part of the natural cycle, they lead a long and rewarding life.

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Daodejing Chapter 50: life and death

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Richard Brown

I live in Taiwan and am interested in exploring what ancient Chinese philosophy can tell us about technology and the rise of modern China.