When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 2, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Everything That Is and Is Not
In yesterday’s chapter, Lao Tzu distinguished between the tao, and the Tao; between what we can tell of (and can be named), and that which is eternal and unnameable; between what we can see (what is manifest), and that which is shrouded in darkness (and a mystery). Those distinctions are important for us to keep in mind as we go about our journey. We need to understand the limits, being caught in desire, place on us. But, we also need to understand that the only way to free ourselves from desire is to continue on with our journey, tracing the manifestations we can see, back to their Source. In other words, we have already walked through the gateway to all understanding, All that remains for us, to truly understand all, is for us to continue on the journey. And, that, we do with today’s chapter.
In today’s chapter, we begin to see the manifestations of the Tao, the tao. It is our introduction to yin and yang, as we see how we perceive things, how we “see” them, creates a temporal imbalance which is spontaneously balanced out eternally.
When people see some things as beautiful, or good, other things become ugly, or bad. This is yin and yang, in operation, in our universe. It isn’t that either yin or yang is beautiful and good, and the other is ugly and bad. Those distinctions-beautiful and ugly, good and bad-are mere human constructs. The Tao certainly doesn’t make those distinctions. (For how the Tao doesn’t take sides, and gives birth to both good and evil, be here Friday for my commentary on chapter 5).
Yin and yang (complementary aspects of the Tao) merely work together to bring about balance and harmony, wherever there is imbalance. Being and non-being create each other. That is, what is and what is not, create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. You simply can’t have one without the other. Even before and after follow each other. It is the interaction of the temporal with that which is eternal. Or, should that be, how the eternal interacts with the temporal? I talked about how deep the rabbit hole goes in my commentary on the last chapter of the Tao, last Friday. The rabbit hole, indeed, goes deep.
We have some exploring to do. We are going to look deep within ourselves for the answers. And, here to help us is a wise and virtuous person Lao Tzu refers to as the Master. The Master is in perfect harmony with the way things are. Watch how the Master maintains balance and harmony in their own life. Acting without doing anything, and teaching without saying anything. To someone unfamiliar with philosophical Taoism that is likely to sound nonsensical. But, Lao Tzu goes on to explain exactly what he means by this. Things arise, and the Master lets them come; things disappear, and the Master lets them go. The Master has without possessing, acts without any expectations. And, to further demonstrate how someone can be in harmony with the eternal, while being “stuck” in the temporal, as soon as their work is done, they forget about it-thus, it lasts forever.
I promise you, while this may be difficult to understand at this stage in our journey, we will gain light and understanding as we continue on. Today’s chapter was merely an introduction to everything we will encounter, and cover in much more depth, all along our journey. Come back tomorrow, we will go deeper into the rabbit hole.