孟孫陽問楊子曰 有人於此 貴生 愛身 以蘄不死可乎 The handsome young man asked Yangzi, What do you think of people who love life and take care of their bodies so they won't die?
曰理无不死 Thinking you won't die is irrational.
以蘄久生可乎 What about trying to prolong life?
曰理无久生 Clinging to life is irrational. 生非貴之所能存 身非愛之所能厚 The value of life isn't how long it lasts, the love of self isn't how healthy you are. 且久生奚為 And why prolong life? 五情好惡古猶今也 四體安危古猶今也 世事樂苦古猶今也 The five senses turn from pleasure to pain, the four limbs from fit to infirm, a life's work from joy to sorrow. 變易治亂古猶今也 既聞之矣 既見之矣 既更之矣 Out of touch with changing times, you've heard it before, seen it before, done it before. 百年猶厭其多 After a hundred years, you'll be sick and tired. 況久生之苦也乎 Why prolong such sorrow?
孟孫陽曰 若然 速亡愈於久生 則踐鋒刃 入湯火 得所志矣 The young man replied, When you put it like that, dying young is better than getting old, so I might as well just slit my own throat, fall into the fire, get it over with.
楊子曰 不然 Yangzi replied, That's not what I'm saying. 既生 則廢而任之 You're alive, so surrender to life and embrace it. 究其所欲 以俟於死 Want what it gives you so you're resigned to death. 將死 則廢而任之 You're going to die, so surrender to death and embrace it. 究其所之 以放於盡 Go where it takes you so you're relieved of your cares. 无不廢 无不任 There's nothing that doesn't give up, nothing that doesn't hold on. 何遽遟 速於其閒乎 Why hurry or delay the comforting call?
This is my first close look at Liezi. Even when musing on death, those old Daoists were just so relentlessly reasonable and upbeat.
孟孫 appears as a student in other texts, but only in Liezi as 孟孫陽. In any case, I take this passage as elder Yangzi's advice to a handsome, healthy young man as they chat by Yangzi's fire.
I started looking at this passage because it shares the term 貴生 with chapter 75 of the Daodejing. I'm guessing that these characters, along with 愛, 身 and 厚, are part of the vocabulary of immortality (不死) and life extension (久生). I'm thinking of 愛身 as the kind of self-nourishment we still do today to keep fit and healthy like exercising and eating well, but I think the term might also have applied to magical self-nourishment of the alchemical kind.
I've reversed 苦 and 樂 given the context of the perennial process of aging and decline. I've also grouped the last line of the 古猶今 expressions with the 既之 expressions in English because I can't seem to make it work as it is.
The knife scene might not be as gory in the original.
I'm not sure what to make of 盡. It appears in a couplet, 以俟於死 vs 以放於盡, where 俟 and 放 are antonyms, bind and release, and if 死 and 盡 are synonyms, does the couplet express something like, Resigned to death, liberated from destruction?
Xuanpin is 玄牝 of chapter 6 of the Daodejing. I was thinking of the last characters of the poem, 其閒, as the welcoming ease and comfort of 谷神, the valley spirit, the female principle of Daoist moral physics. A phoenix seems a fitting symbol.