The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.
All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.
Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
So, I have been wrestling with what to do with today’s chapter. In the past, I have spent a whole lot of time trying to unravel the mystery of the One, the Two, and the Three. And felt a great sense of accomplishment once I finally determined I had succeeded in unraveling the mystery. But, in spite of my feeling of accomplishment, I still felt that wasn’t the point of what Lao Tzu was teaching in today’s chapter. It was merely an esoteric exercise that wasn’t useful, beyond saying, “Look here, at my knowledge!” That isn’t what Lao Tzu is all about.
So, instead of going through a lengthy explanation of how I arrived at my understanding of the mysterious One, Two, and Three. I want to keep that part brief and delve into what I think is the purpose of what Lao Tzu is saying in today’s chapter. For anyone who is interested in all my efforts to unravel the mystery, message me, I would be more than happy to share it with you.
Lao Tzu begins today’s chapter with the Tao giving birth to One. The One is nothing, or non-being. The One gives birth to Two. This is non-being giving birth to being. The Two are yin and yang. The Two gives birth to Three. The Three, or Third, is chi. It is the energy or life force that flows through all things. It is the Tao in motion. One, Two, Three. These Three are all aspects of the Tao, non-being and being, yin and yang, and chi. These Three give birth to all things.
Then, he begins with all things and counts back down to the One. That is where it gets interesting, in what I think is a useful way. The Three comes in when he says “All things have their backs to the female and stand facing the male.” It is chi that turns things around. Remember, the Three is what gives birth to all things. Understanding that back and front are a representation of yin and yang, so back is yin, just like female is yin, we have yin facing yin. And, with male being yang, we have yang facing yang. That isn’t a state of harmony. But the action of chi turns things around. Yin is no longer facing yin, and yang is no longer facing yang. Male and female combine. That is, yin and yang. The result is harmony.
I apologize, if this abridged version explaining the mystery of the first two stanzas of today’s chapter leaves you confused, or otherwise dissatisfied. I think some explanation was due. And if you need any further help, please message me with your questions and comments.
We are now back to the One. The One that I think is the whole point of today’s chapter. Remember back in chapter 38, when Lao Tzu compared the ordinary person with the Master? He was talking, there, about our will to power. In yesterday’s chapter he was comparing the superior person with the average one, and the fool. Today, he remarks about one thing that sets apart the Master from ordinary people. It is that he doesn’t hate solitude. He makes use of it. He embraces his aloneness, realizing he is one with the whole universe. The Master understands how the One is the catalyst for achieving harmony.
Ordinary people hate solitude. They don’t know how to make use of it. They don’t embrace aloneness. They don’t realize that by being one, they are one with the whole universe.
I don’t want to be ordinary. There, I said it. I want to be extraordinary. I want to be the master. And that means I need to understand how one becomes two and two becomes three and three gives birth to all things. I need to understand how yin and yang combine to achieve harmony. And I need to understand how one solitary individual can be the catalyst for achieving harmony in my universe. I need to embrace my aloneness, as oneness. Oneness with the Tao, which is one with all things.