You Can’t Have One Without The Other

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;
she acts, but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

-Lao Tzu-
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 2, translation by Stephen Mitchell)

In today’s chapter, Lao Tzu begins to expand on what he said yesterday about naming and talking about things. Naming is the origin of all particular things; but none of those things are the eternal reality. What is eternally real can’t be named. We are differentiating the manifestations from the mystery. The manifestations are what we can see. The mystery can’t even be talked about.

Lao Tzu is talking about being and non-being creating each other. When people see some things as beautiful or good other things become ugly or bad. This is not to say that being is beautiful and good and non-being is ugly and bad. It is to understand that being and non-being are two sides to the same thing. You can’t have the one without having the other. This is represented in Taoist philosophy with the familiar yin yang symbol. The Tao always balances things out.

Difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, before and after. There will never be one without the other. Being and non-being are dependent on each other. They support and define and follow each other. They are a creative force.

Of course, when you think about naming something beautiful and good, and realize that by doing so you are also allowing for the ugly and the bad; it shows us how powerful, naming a thing really is.

The Master, who Lao Tzu introduces to us for the first time in today’s chapter, understands this eternal reality. That is why she acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything. If this seems strange to you, I only point out to you that we are talking about the mystery of the eternal reality. Don’t worry that it isn’t easy to understand what the Master is about right now. We will come to understand her better as we progress in our journey. Just watch her. Listen to her. And don’t try to complicate things by trying to understand her right now.

Things arise and she lets them come. They disappear and she lets them go. This is really a simple explanation of accepting that the way things are is the way things are. Things are going to arise, whether or not I allow it to happen. And things are going to disappear, with or without my consent. We are going to learn a lot from the Master. She doesn’t force anything. And she doesn’t try to hold on to anything. That is having without possessing. And, acting without expecting. What the Master does lasts forever. Why? Because when her work is done, she forgets about it. Like I said, we have plenty we can learn from the Master. Or maybe unlearn would be a better word to use. We don’t tend to think that anything that we do will last, if we don’t work at making it last. But letting things come and go without desire, that is what this journey is all about.

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