“The Tao gives birth to one
one gives birth to two
two gives birth to three
three gives birth to ten thousand things
then thousand things with yin at their backs
yang in their embrace
and breath between for harmony
what the world hates
to be orphaned widowed or destitute
kings use for their titles
thus some gain by losing
others lose by gaining
what others teach
I teach too
tyrants never choose their death
this becomes my teacher”
(Taoteching, verse 42, translation by Red Pine)
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Tao gives birth to the beginning. One gives birth to yin and yang. Yin and yang give birth to the breath between them, the mixture of clear and turbid. These three breaths divide themselves into Heaven, Earth, and Humankind and together give birth to the ten thousand things. These elemental breaths are what keep the ten thousand things relaxed and balanced. The organs in our chest, the marrow in our bones, the hollow spaces inside plants all allow these breaths passage and make long life possible.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “The yang we embrace is one. The yin we turn away from is two. Where yin and yang meet and merge is three.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Dark and unfathomable is yin. Bright and perceptible is yang. As soon as we are born, we all turn our back on the dark and unfathomable yin and turn toward the bright and perceptible yang. Fortunately, we keep ourselves in harmony with the breath between them.”
THE YUNCHI CHICHIEN says, “When breath is pure, it becomes Heaven. When it becomes turgid, it becomes Earth. And the mixture of the breath between them becomes Humankind.”
TE-CH’ING says, “To call oneself ‘orphaned,’ widowed,’ or ‘destitute’ is to use a title of self-effacement. Rulers who are not self-effacing are not looked up to by the world. Thus, by losing, they gain. Rulers who are only aware of themselves might possess the world, but the world rebels against them. Thus, by gaining, they lose. We all share this Tao, but we don’t know it except through instruction. What others teach, Lao-tzu also teaches. But Lao-tzu surpasses others in teaching us to reduce our desires and to be humble, to practice the virtue of harmony, and to let this be our teacher.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “Those who love victory make enemies. The ancients taught this, and so does Lao-tzu. But Lao-tzu goes further and calls this his own ‘teacher.’”
KAO HENG says, “According to the Shuoyuan (10.25), ‘Tyrants never choose their death’ was an ancient saying, which Confucius attributed to the Chinjenming. This is what Lao-tzu refers to when he says ‘what others teach.’”
WANG P’ANG says, “Whatever contains the truth can be our teacher. Although tyrants kill others and are the most hated of creatures, we can learn the principle of creation and destruction from them.”
Lao-tzu finished up yesterday’s verse by saying of the Tao, “It knows how to start and how to finish.” And, today, Lao-tzu explores this “starting and finishing” further.
“The Tao gives birth to one.” Ho-shang Kung says this one is the beginning. “One gives birth to two.” This would be yin and yang. “Two gives birth to three.” This would be the harmony between them as they bring balance to the ten thousand things.
How does this balance and harmony come to pass? Is there something we must do?
The “ten thousand things with yin at their backs” and “yang in their embrace.” But the harmony, is the balance between them.
We try, how we try, to force harmony. Kings will say they are orphaned, they are widowed, they are destitute, in an attempt to show they don’t have their backs turned to yin. No! They are embracing it. We have discussed this pretentious show before (verse 39). And, Lao-tzu said then, “This isn’t the basis of humility. They try to hide their jade, and fail. What is their end? “Tyrants never choose their death.”
“Some gain by losing, others lose by gaining.” The Tao knows how to start, and how to finish. The Tao gives birth to one, then two, then three, and then ten thousand things. Balanced, harmonious, by yin giving way to yang and yang giving way to yin. All without any effort on the part of the ten thousand things. Don’t fight it. Don’t force it.
Breathe in, and then breathe out, and then breathe in and out again. Let that breath happen naturally. Like the beating of your heart. What others teach, I teach too. And, this becomes my teacher.
Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:
YUNCHI CHICHIEN An anthology of Taoist writings edited by Chang Chun-fang (fl. 1017-1021). One of the most influential such compilations, it is also called the Shorter Taoist Canon.
KAO HENG (1900-?). Classical scholar and advocate of using grammatical analysis to elucidate textual difficulties in the Taoteching. Many of his insights have been borne out by the texts discovered at Mawangtui. Lao-tzu cheng-ku.