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)
Do you remember back in chapter two, when Lao Tzu began talking about how our desire, how we see things, creates all new problems for us? He said, “When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.” I said, then, the Tao doesn’t make these distinctions, we do. Our desire, how we see things, creates the reality we perceive all around us. Soon, we will find ourselves over-esteeming and over-valuing. That is excess, which leads to deficiency. And, we talked for a couple of chapters about how to deal with the problem of excess and deficiency. Lao Tzu tells us to practice doing without doing, then, everything will fall into place.
In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins by teaching us how we can avoid doing something, when we really should do nothing. Don’t take sides! If we didn’t see some things as beautiful, some things wouldn’t become ugly. And, if we didn’t see some things as good, some things wouldn’t become bad. We need to avoid making these distinctions. That is our problem. We insist on making these kinds of distinctions. But, “The Tao doesn’t take sides; it gives birth to both good and evil.” Wow! Do you see how unapologetic Lao Tzu is, here? Both, what we see as good, and what we see as evil, have, as their source, the Tao.
A wise and virtuous person doesn’t take sides, either. I want to be very clear, here. I don’t care how knowledgeable you think you are; and, I don’t care how good your intentions are, either. If you take sides, if you choose one side over another, if you say, “ah, this, here, is beautiful, while that is ugly”, or, “this is good, while that is bad”, you are being neither wise, nor virtuous. To practice doing without doing, you must free yourself of all desire, and welcome both saints and sinners.
To further illustrate this for us, Lao Tzu returns with another metaphor for emptiness. For, we really need to be empty of all desire. Yesterday, we saw the utility of emptiness in an empty bowl. Why, you can use it for anything! The possibilities are endless. Today, it is a bellows.
“The Tao is like a bellows; it is empty yet infinitely capable.” Once again, we have perfectly illustrated, the utility of emptiness. A bellows works with both yin and yang, just like the Tao does. When you put it to use, it repeats a process of contracting (yin) and expanding (yang). The expanding takes air inside. The contracting expels air out. It starts out empty. But the more you use it, the more it draws air in, and then pushes air out, the more it produces. When you set it aside, it is empty again. But, when you need it again, there it is, ready to be used again. Infinitely.
The Tao is like that bellows. It is the Way things are in our Universe. Periods of expansion are followed by periods of contraction. And, the reverse is, obviously, also true. Yin follows yang. And, yang follows yin. The Tao doesn’t take sides. Neither yang, nor yin, are preferable. They are one, in unity of purpose. Expansion and contraction bring about balance.
Is there, really, anymore to be said about this? But, the more we talk of it, the less we understand. Just use it. You will see. Don’t take sides! Hold on to the center. Balance will be the result. Don’t interfere!
Tomorrow, we will have another yet another metaphor for the Tao; and, we will find where the Tao is hidden.