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)
Wow! Lao Tzu has so much to say in so few words. When I figure out his secret, you all will be the first to know. Today we are going to tackle the concept of good and evil. And we are going to continue to describe what the Tao is like. Before we tackle good and evil, I want to continue what we started yesterday, talking about what the Tao is like.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu likened it to a well and the eternal void. I said the takeaway from that chapter was the infinite usefulness of the Tao. Today’s chapter continues talking about that infinite usefulness, when he says the Tao is like a bellows. It is empty (just like a void); yet, it is infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it produces. That is infinite usefulness. We may not understand yet, how to use it. But don’t worry, that will come. For now, let’s simply accept that it is like a bellows.
And now for the concept of good and evil. I want to be careful right here, the more I talk about this, the less I understand. Unfortunately for you, my readers, that translates into confusion. I don’t want to confuse you on this. The less I talk, the better for all of us.
Lao Tzu says the Tao doesn’t take sides. It gives birth to both good and evil. Lao Tzu actually already talked about good and bad, back in chapter 2. He warned us, then, to be careful about naming anything as good. When people see some things as good, other things become bad. Being and non-being create each other. The Tao gives birth to them both.
I find this very interesting because humans have been discussing and debating this idea of good and evil for millenia now. People like to ponder what kind of role God has in this whole good and evil thing. In the Bible there is a little story about a tree in a garden whose fruit was supposed to grant the eater the knowledge of good and evil. This goes way back in our history. People contemplate how an all powerful God can be good. Or, if God is only good but not all-powerful.
Lao Tzu dispensed with the question of God in yesterday’s chapter. The Tao precedes God and the Tao is beyond good and evil. We humans are going to continue to discuss and debate good and evil. I suppose it is just our lot as humans. But Lao Tzu has already warned us, that isn’t fruitful. (Yes, the pun is intended)
Anyway, Lao Tzu, of course, has an entirely different way for us to look at things. Instead of taking sides. Instead of saying, this is good. And that? That is evil. He doesn’t want us taking sides at all. The Master, he says, welcomes both saints and sinners. Lao Tzu wants us to hold on to the center.
I am going to keep this brief today. There is plenty more to say. But Lao Tzu is going to keep coming back to this problem of good and evil, over and over again, throughout the Tao Te Ching. He understands it is in our nature to ponder this question over and over again. Never being fully satisfied, no matter how much we continue to ponder it. I am going to accept the wisdom of one ent by the name of Treebeard (see J.R.R. Tolkien’s, The Two Towers). He said, “I am not altogether on anybody’s side, because nobody is altogether on my side…. And, there are some things, of course, whose side I am altogether not on….”