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 five, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
One of the things that I really admire about Lao Tzu is that he isn’t afraid to tackle the big questions. Yesterday, we talked about origins. And where does God fit in the big picture. Today, Lao Tzu tackles the question of good and evil.
Yesterday, Lao Tzu likened the Tao to a well and the eternal void. Today he incorporates those two ideas into one image. That of a bellows.
Like a lot of the chapters of the Tao Te Ching, this chapter can easily be divided into two parts So I want to take these two parts, one at a time.
Being as Lao Tzu begins with the concept of good and evil, it seems like the best place for us to start.
Back in chapter two, Lao Tzu taught us that when people see some things as good, other things become bad. Lao Tzu was introducing us to the idea of good and evil right there. And warning us against choosing sides. Be careful about seeing some things as good. And, I am going to cheat a little bit right here, I am going to go ahead and tell you that Lao Tzu will be returning to the concept of good and bad (evil) over and over again throughout the Tao Te Ching. He has plenty to say about the subject, but he only gives it to us in bite size amounts, giving us a little something to chew on, a bit at a time. The temptation is great for me to expand further than what he has said so far. But I think we would be better served by letting Lao Tzu set the pace for the discussion.
I do think that Lao Tzu feels compelled to discuss the concept of good and evil. After all, we humans, have been troubling ourselves over this for millennia. It seems so very important to us. Interestingly enough, I can’t imagine other beings in our world, troubling themselves with it. But that is neither here, nor there. And it doesn’t necessarily help us to move forward on our journey. For today, I want to limit myself to understanding that the Tao is beyond good and evil. The Tao is simply the way things are. If we can find our way to understanding that, we have come a long way indeed. The more clearly we can see what is beyond good and evil, the more we can embody the good.
The Tao doesn’t take sides. It gives birth to them both. This needs fleshing out; so, thankfully, Lao Tzu brings in the Master as one who is in perfect harmony with the way things are. The Master doesn’t take sides either, she welcomes both saints and sinners.
And isn’t that what it always comes down to when we are asked to choose sides? It isn’t really about whether we are going to stand on the side of good or the side of evil. Ultimately, the art of living concerns itself with something a lot more real. It isn’t concerned with the abstract. What it is concerned with, is flesh and blood. What are you going to do with those saints and sinners? You know, your fellow human beings on this planet.
The Tao doesn’t take sides. And neither should we. We need to hold on to the center. That is where the Master dwells. When we hold on to the center, we won’t be thinking of our fellow human beings as enemies. We will see them as brothers and sisters, just as in need of love and compassion as ourselves. Welcome saints and sinners as you would have them welcome you.
There is, of course, so much more that needs to be said, but I have to keep reminding myself, bite-sized morsels, Chuck, bite-sized morsels. Just give them something to chew on, we will get more as we go further in the journey.
Meanwhile, there was something about a bellows in today’s chapter. Ah, yes, the Tao is like a bellows. It is empty, but it is infinitely capable. The more you use it, the more it will produce. This is really what Lao Tzu wants us to understand. That emptiness, that nothing, is everything. We want to chase after things, Lao Tzu wants to direct our gaze on nothing.
But the more I talk of it, the less I understand. So this would be a very good time for me to stop talking.