This post is a response to something I read recently on a "Taoist blog" (which I put in quotes because in my opinion if Taoism had prophets, this particular blog would be in the "false prophets of Tao" class) about how aspiring to longevity is ego based and unwise, and that in the author's opinion longevity is somehow not even relevant to Taoist philosophy. And that not only is it selfish to outlive your contemporaries, they wouldn't want to because it would be too sad and lonely.
I find that very odd, because even if you outlive your contemporaries, there are always new people to meet, new people to help, new people to love. Even if you lived a hermit's existence away from society, there is the beauty of the natural world, communing with nature, and friendship with animals to keep you company; a person who is truly at peace, would not depend on old family and friends to make life livable. The true sorrow I think comes from an inability to adapt to loss, to replace old friends with new friends, old family with new family, old loves with new loves, and to make yourself comfortably at home and at peace wherever you are.
This is probably why longevity is not for everyone. Most people probably don't have the strength to live a thousand years. Longevity requires not only health and strength, but mental fortitude, discipline, courage, resilience, peace of mind, and the ability to rejuvenate yourself each and every day; rising and setting like the sun, dying each night you fall asleep, being born again each morning you awake.
I was going to say, that if aspiring to live a long and healthy life is selfish, than perhaps being selfish is not at all a bad thing. But then I realized that this person whom I'm indirectly responding to is full of shit, because the longer you live the more of an opportunity you have to make a positive contribution to the world. If it's selfish to want to stay (Bodhisattva's must be extremely selfish then, eh?), it's just as selfish to wish to depart sooner than you have to, to aspire to oneness (whatever the hell that means) or mindlessness and the annihilation of self, which to me sounds like the ultimate escapism, and isn't THAT inherently selfish?
What really caught my attention about this blog post in which I refer to, is that this is the first time I ever read such a thing on a Taoist blog, equating the aspiration of longevity with selfishness and lack of wisdom, and that perhaps it is an ideal that is not really that compatible with Taoism. I'm like, what? Red flag alert.
While I don't consider myself a Taoist, am what you would call a spiritual agnostic and a student of the perennial philosophy, my primary interest in Taoism came as a direct result of my interest in health and longevity. From my understanding of it, health and longevity as an expression of balance and harmony between self and environment, inner and outer, growth and decay, is central to Taoist philosophy, being an outgrowth of Traditional Chinese Medicine. In recent years I really enjoyed Deng Ming-Dao's book The Scholar Warrior, which emphasized how important both philosophy and practice and health and longevity is to Taoism.
Health and longevity to me is the foundation of all else. Why? because all else that you have, know, and are, disintegrates with the collapse of this foundation. Perhaps there is life and consciousness beyond the physical body and brain (a huge question mark, which no one knows for certain until they actually arrive) but that is no reason to purposefully accelerate its decline, to neglect your health, and to not attempt to preserve your health and extend your life for as long as possible.
Right alongside reading, learning, and self-improvement, health and longevity is at the foundation of everything that I do and aspire to be. The idea of extending my life, preserving my health, and the possibility of living 1000 years or longer is something that I think about regularly, and weigh all of my actions in relation to what does the least harm and what is most fortifying. Most of it is automatic, a natural habit and orientation. I gravitate towards health and beauty and balance, towards people, places, and things that are most nourishing to peace of mind, and most conducive to health and longevity.
Of course, I am a selfish person, and my aspiration for longevity is just as much to help myself as it is to help others. But what's wrong with that? As I see it the more you help yourself, the more you are able to help others. The longer I live the more books I will be able to read, the more time I will have to learn about the world, to think and to observe and to become wiser and more aware. If you are devoted to self-mastery and enlightenment, the longer you live the more likely you will reach your goal. If seeking enlightenment in this lifetime is selfish, than so be it. If seeking to live a 1000 years is selfish, than so be it.
But perhaps it is a mistake seeking to annihilate the self, that maybe the ego serves a useful purpose, that individuality serves a useful and constructive purpose, that without it there would be no evolution, no progress, no change, no growth, and that if one already had knowledge of all things, there would be no opportunity to learn anything new. That perhaps for some at least, the purpose of life is to learn, and that learning must take place from the experience of an individual ego, and that communication, sharing what you learn, is not always an indication of not knowing (as in those who speak, don't know) but is more so a natural expression of living and sharing in the fulfillment of the purpose of life, as is eating and breathing, being and becoming.
If half the fun of living is learning and communicating what you learn, then the longer and more healthfully you live the better.