“The Tao gives birth to one
one gives birth to two
two gives birth to three
three gives birth to ten thousand things
then thousand things with yin at their backs
yang in their embrace
and breath between for harmony
what the world hates
to be orphaned widowed or destitute
kings use for their titles
thus some gain by losing
others lose by gaining
what others teach
I teach too
tyrants never choose their death
this becomes my teacher”
(Taoteching, verse 42, translation by Red Pine)
HO-SHANG KUNG says, “The Tao gives birth to the beginning. One gives birth to yin and yang. Yin and yang give birth to the breath between them, the mixture of clear and turbid. These three breaths divide themselves into Heaven, Earth, and Humankind and together give birth to the ten thousand things. These elemental breaths are what keep the ten thousand things relaxed and balanced. The organs in our chest, the marrow in our bones, the hollow spaces inside plants all allow these breaths passage and make long life possible.”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “The yang we embrace is one. The yin we turn away from is two. Where yin and yang meet and merge is three.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “Dark and unfathomable is yin. Bright and perceptible is yang. As soon as we are born, we all turn our back on the dark and unfathomable yin and turn toward the bright and perceptible yang. Fortunately, we keep ourselves in harmony with the breath between them.”
THE YUNCHI CHICHIEN says, “When breath is pure, it becomes Heaven. When it becomes turgid, it becomes Earth. And the mixture of the breath between them becomes Humankind.”
TE-CH’ING says, “To call oneself ‘orphaned,’ widowed,’ or ‘destitute’ is to use a title of self-effacement. Rulers who are not self-effacing are not looked up to by the world. Thus, by losing, they gain. Rulers who are only aware of themselves might possess the world, but the world rebels against them. Thus, by gaining, they lose. We all share this Tao, but we don’t know it except through instruction. What others teach, Lao-tzu also teaches. But Lao-tzu surpasses others in teaching us to reduce our desires and to be humble, to practice the virtue of harmony, and to let this be our teacher.”
CHIAO HUNG says, “Those who love victory make enemies. The ancients taught this, and so does Lao-tzu. But Lao-tzu goes further and calls this his own ‘teacher.’”
KAO HENG says, “According to the Shuoyuan (10.25), ‘Tyrants never choose their death’ was an ancient saying, which Confucius attributed to the Chinjenming. This is what Lao-tzu refers to when he says ‘what others teach.’”
WANG P’ANG says, “Whatever contains the truth can be our teacher. Although tyrants kill others and are the most hated of creatures, we can learn the principle of creation and destruction from them.”
It was already an ancient saying when Lao-tzu taught it, “Tyrants never choose their death,” but he went further: He said, “This becomes my teacher.” So, what does he mean?
Tyrants take intervention, interference, the use of force, and trying to control to their logical extreme. In other words, they are the embodiment of everything Lao-tzu stands against. They are opposed to the Tao, and they can’t last long.
Understanding this, taking this as our teacher, we learn patience. We can endure more than we realize. They may rule for a time, but their time will come to an end. This is good news, my friends.
And we could sure use some good news. There are a lot of tyrants out there. But their time will soon come to an end.
Just watch as the natural order develops. The Tao gives birth to one. The one gives birth to two. The two gives birth to three. The three gives birth to ten thousand things. See how fast things escalate. How fast they change. Ten thousand things with their backs to yin, while embracing yang. Why have they turned their backs on yin? Why are they embracing yang? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? How can we have harmony with their backs to yin and they embrace yang?
Hush. Be still. Don’t worry. This too will change. Breathe. Just breathe. Be one with the breath between yin and yang. There is harmony.
What the world hates (to be orphaned, widowed, or destitute) kings use for their titles. They use terms of self-deprecation because people wouldn’t tolerate them otherwise. But, as we talked about in my commentary on verse 39, where Lao-tzu originally referred to kings taking these as their titles, it is all a charade. Speaking self-deprecating words isn’t the basis of humility. What is needed isn’t the name, but the reality, where some gain by losing what others lose by gaining. Name and reality might be at odds now, but that won’t last, either. Tyrants never choose their death.
Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:
YUNCHI CHICHIEN An anthology of Taoist writings edited by Chang Chun-fang (fl. 1017-1021). One of the most influential such compilations, it is also called the Shorter Taoist Canon.
KAO HENG (1900-?). Classical scholar and advocate of using grammatical analysis to elucidate textual difficulties in the Taoteching. Many of his insights have been borne out by the texts discovered at Mawangtui. Lao-tzu cheng-ku.