The Tao doesn’t take sides;
it gives birth to both good and evil.
The Master doesn’t take sides;
she welcomes both saints and sinners.
The Tao is like a bellows;
it is empty yet infinitely capable.
The more you use it, the more it produces;
the more you talk of it, the less you understand.
Hold on to the center.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 5, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
We have been talking about what Lao Tzu calls the Tao. It is the eternal reality, the way things are. Because the Tao is both eternal and infinite, it is largely a mystery to us. Lao Tzu admitted, right from the start, that he can’t really tell of the Tao. Our desire gets in the way of us realizing its mystery. But, we can see how the Tao manifests itself in our Universe, in our world, in our lives. By tracing the manifestations, we will find our way back to the Source, and be free from desire; then, we can realize the mystery. That is the point of our journey through the Tao Te Ching. It is a path of self-discovery.
In pointing out how the Tao manifests itself, Lao Tzu explains the way things are, the eternal reality, as a duality, yin and yang; that is, being and non-being. It was in chapter two, that Lao Tzu first mentioned being and non-being. I expressed then, how difficult it is to explain being and non-being. The more you talk of it, the less you understand. But understanding is possible; so, we will be returning to being and non-being again and again, throughout the Tao Te Ching. For now, I still want you to think of them as yin and yang, eternally coexistent in our Universe. There isn’t one without the other. They arise spontaneously, creating each other. They support each other. They define each other. They depend on each other. And they follow each other.
He said, back in chapter two, that when people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. And, when people see some things as good, other things become bad. This problem is a result of our desire. And the only way to deal with this problem is to practice not-doing; that is, don’t interfere. When things arise, let them come. When things disappear, let them go.
But, we don’t necessarily care for this sage advice. Once again, it is our desire that gets in the way. We want to take sides. We choose beautiful over ugly. And, good over bad. And, we don’t much care to be told that, in choosing sides, we only get more of what we didn’t choose.
So, Lao Tzu reiterates in today’s chapter that the Tao doesn’t take sides; and neither should we. Lao Tzu even goes so far, as to explain that the Tao is the source of both good and evil. It gives birth to both of them. This is a shocking declaration.
We have been dealing with the problem of evil for eons. Actually, for as long as there has been anything around that we could call good. Philosophies and religions have devoted themselves to dealing with the problem of evil; largely, making apologies for evil, while insisting that they are firmly on the side of good. We will have much more to say about good and evil, in future chapters of the Tao Te Ching. But, for today, let it suffice to say that Lao Tzu makes no apologies for the existence of evil. He identifies the source. And he tells us that the Tao doesn’t take sides. The Master, our example for how to live in harmony with the way things are, doesn’t take sides, either. She welcomes both saints and sinners. That is, she lets things come and go, without interfering with them. She welcomes whatever comes her way.
I have a great deal more to say of this, but I keep going back to that caveat at the end of today’s chapter. The more you talk of it, the less you understand. I want to be on guard against this. You probably figured out that good and evil are related to yin and yang. But I want to be careful, here, that we don’t think of yin and yang as good and evil. To suggest that one is good and the other is evil, is to completely misunderstand. See, I may have already said too much.
We need to understand better how the Universe operates, the way things are; that will help us to understand how to not take sides. To that end, Lao Tzu explains that the Tao is like a bellows. Like in yesterday’s chapter, when he said the Tao is like a well, and like the eternal void, he is using a word picture, a metaphor, to explain how the Tao manifests itself. We probably all know what a bellows is used for. It is a mechanism which expands and contracts. It may be used to both take air in and let air out. A simple bellows doesn’t judge the quality of the air it is taking in, or the air it is letting out. It merely expands and contracts, and then expands and contracts, again.
The Tao is like that. How the Tao manifests is like that. Expansion and contraction follow each other, just like before and after. The Tao is the Source for that expansion and contraction. We might call expansion, yang; and we might call contraction, yin. That would be a fair way of looking at how the Tao manifests. But one isn’t good, and the other evil. When we start taking sides, forming judgments, then we find it increasingly difficult to not interfere.
Yesterday, was when we first talked of the infinite possibilities that exist in the Tao. We said, that like a well, it is meant to be used. Today, in saying it is like a bellows, Lao Tzu reiterates, that it is empty, yet infinitely capable. Like a bellows, the more you use it, the more it produces. This is a teaser for us to begin to let loose and imagine the infinite possible uses in our lives.
But even now, I am feeling restrained. Have I said too much already; or, not enough? I can’t use it too much. But I can talk of it too much. So I will close by saying, please understand me when I say how very important it is to not take sides. Hold on to the center!