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)
The Tao gives birth to One. Thus, begins a very mysterious chapter, indeed. I have spent time, in the past, trying to unravel the mystery of this chapter; and, I will try to do so satisfactorily, again, today. But, first, I want to skip ahead to the last stanza. It is relevant to what we have been talking about for the last few days about being willing to incubate, by staying centered in the Tao.
Ordinary people hate solitude. Lao Tzu spent some time a few chapters ago comparing the ordinary person with the Master, a wise and virtuous person. There, he said ordinary people never can get enough power; so, they keep reaching for more and more. A wise and virtuous person doesn’t try to be powerful, thus they are truly powerful. Ordinary people are always doing things, yet leave many more not done. But a wise and virtuous person leaves nothing undone; while, seemingly, doing nothing. It is obvious there is a vast gulf which separates a wise and virtuous person from one who is merely ordinary. While the merely ordinary hate solitude, a wise and virtuous person makes use of it.
If you want to become a wise and virtuous person, it is vitally important that you learn to embrace your aloneness. It is the only way to realize you are one with the whole universe.
One with the whole universe. The Tao gives birth to that One. It happens while we embrace our aloneness, incubating in the Tao. We come to realize it, spontaneously and intuitively.
That unity, that oneness, is the theme of today’s chapter. Don’t hate solitude. Embrace your aloneness. There is so much we need to realize.
I suppose we can begin by realizing what the mysterious One, Two, and Three are in today’s chapter.
The One is referring to one aspect of the Tao, non-being. Non-being, as Lao Tzu has said before, gives birth to being. Now, we have non-being and being, yin and yang. That is the Two. But what is this Three? This third aspect of the Tao is Chi, the life force that flows through all things. The Three, then, are non-being, being, and chi, or yin and yang and the flow their merging produces, in order to create balance and harmony in our universe. All things are created by these three aspects of the Tao. Or, to put it like Lao Tzu has before, the Tao gives birth to all things.
The second stanza of today’s chapter begins at the end of the first, with all things. And, then it turns back, or returns, to the One. All things have their backs to the female, and stand facing the male. Picture this for just a moment. To me it illustrates a confrontational pose. With your back turned from the female, the nurturing aspect of the Tao, and facing the male. This won’t do at all. The only way for all things to achieve harmony, is to turn around; let male and female combine. The Two become One again. That is the unity we were talking about earlier.
I do hope that was satisfactory. Tomorrow, we will look, again, at the value of non-action.