The Bellows Knows

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.

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

Today, Lao Tzu begins discussing how the Tao, and someone who is in harmony with the Tao, deals with the problem of good and evil. Back in chapter two, he first talked about people seeing some things as good. And that necessarily meant other things become bad. That was our introduction to yin and yang; and, how the Tao achieves balance and harmony.

I suppose humans have been wrestling with the knowledge of good and evil as long as we have been humans. It has been something which has occupied great minds for millenia. Lao Tzu identifies the problem as one of duality. A duality that we actually create when we insist some things are good. Everyone seems to agree that evil is a problem. But few seem to understand that good is a problem. Therefore, everyone wants to try and solve the problem of evil, without ever addressing the problem of good. Lao Tzu insists the problem isn’t singular. Duality is the problem. We must get beyond good and evil. Only then, will our problem with evil cease to be a problem.

So, how do we do this? We accomplish this, quite simply, by not taking sides. That is the way of the Tao. It doesn’t take sides. Not even the side of good over evil. If you want to understand just how impartial the Tao is, consider this: The Tao gives birth to them both. How could it choose one over the other?

But, how can we translate this into something that we can do? I know I shouldn’t take sides. But, who doesn’t want good to triumph over evil? The problem is that we need to master ourselves. As we learn to master ourselves, to become the Master, in perfect harmony with the Tao, instead of just knowing not to take sides, we won’t take sides. We need to be the Master of ourselves. Of both our minds and our bodies.

Notice how the Master leaves the problem of good and evil to the Tao. The Master knows better than to be concerned with such things. Once you leave the problem of good and evil to the Tao, your only problem is practicing hospitality. The Master welcomes all. Both saint and sinner. Don’t miss the significance of what Lao Tzu is saying here.

We, humans, like to concern ourselves with great things. It makes us think great things of ourselves. And, humans are great. But, as great as we are, there are some things that are too great for us. The problem of good and evil is one of those things. All of our concern with it, has not dealt with it. If you think evil has been diminished in any measurable way since we began concerning ourselves with it, you haven’t been paying attention. The reason we haven’t been able to deal with it, is because that isn’t our problem to deal with. But, once we have mastered ourselves, then we can start actually solving the kinds of problems humans should be concerned with. We will be able to care for our fellow humans in ways that we didn’t think possible before we mastered ourselves.

We were talking just yesterday about abundance coming out of emptiness. This is what being in perfect harmony with the Tao means. It is hard to realize the mystery of abundance coming out of emptiness. How exactly does that work? Yesterday, in picturing a used well and a void, all we could see was emptiness. But Lao Tzu helps us out today with the image of a bellows. The Tao is like that bellows. It is empty, yet infinitely capable. Now, we can begin to see how that emptiness can produce abundance. The more you use it, the more it produces.

There is so much more I would like to say. Of that bellows. Of the problem of good and evil. Of how to welcome both saint and sinner. But the more I talk of it, the less I find I understand. So, I will conclude today with one last thing: Hold on to the center. That is how to keep from taking sides. The bellows knows.

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