“All the world knows beauty
but if that becomes beautiful
this becomes ugly
all the world knows good
but if that becomes good
this becomes bad
have and have not create each other
hard and easy produce each other
long and short shape each other
high and low complete each other
note and noise accompany each other
first and last follow each other
sages therefore perform effortless deeds
and teach wordless lessons
they don’t look after all the things that arise
or depend on them as they develop
or claim them when they reach perfection
and because they don’t claim them
they are never without them”
(Taoteching, verse 2, translation by Red Pine)
LU HSI-SHENG says, “What we call beautiful or ugly depends on our feelings. Nothing is necessarily beautiful or ugly until feelings make it so. But while feelings differ, they all come from our nature, and we all have the same nature. Hence, sages transform their feelings and return to their nature and thus become one again.”
WU CH’ENG says, “The existence of things, the difficulty of affairs, the size of forms, the magnitude of power, the pitch and clarity of sound, the sequence of position, all involve contrasting pairs. When one is present, both are present. When one is absent, both are absent.”
LU HUI-CH’ING says, “These six pairs all depend on time and occasion. None of them is eternal. Sages, however, act according to the Immortal Tao. Hence, they act without effort. And because they teach according to the Immortal Name, they teach without words. Beautiful and ugly, good and bad don’t enter their minds.”
WANG WU-CHIU says, “Sages are not interested in deeds or words. They simply follow the natural pattern of things. Things rise, develop, and reach perfection. This is their order.”
WANG AN-SHIH says, “Sages create but do not possess what they create. They act but do not depend on what they do. They succeed but do not claim success. These all result from selflessness. Because sages are selfless, they do not lose themselves. Because they do not lose themselves, they do not lose others.
SU CH’E says, “Losing something is the result of possessing something. How can people lose what they don’t possess?”
LI HSI-CHAI says, “Lao-tzu’s 5,000 word text clarifies what is mysterious as well as what is obvious. It can be used to attain the Tao, to order a country, or to cultivate the body.”
HO-SHANG KUNG titles this verse: “Cultivating the Body.”
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Those who practice the Way put an end to distinctions, get rid of name and form, and make of themselves a home for the Way and Virtue.”
Yesterday, we walked through the door, beginning the journey through the Taoteching, again. In that first verse Lao-tzu told us that the Immortal Way isn’t something that changes. It doesn’t become. And, names of things that change, can’t be the Immortal name. This is very important for us to understand. I said, yesterday, the Immortal Way isn’t about what will become, but of what is and what is not.
In today’s verse, Lao-tzu explains this “what is and what is not,” further. And this, also, is very important for us to understand. We act as if our universe is only made up of what is. But that is a delusion, if we think it. The Immortal Way, or Eternal Reality, is made up of both what is and what is not. You simply can’t have one without the other. It is yin and yang. As soon as “that” becomes beautiful to you, “this” becomes ugly. If “that” becomes good to you, “this” becomes bad.
Try as you might to imagine it otherwise, there is no such thing as beautiful without ugly, or good without bad. Have and have not create each other. Hard and easy produce each other. Long and short shape each other. High and low complete each other. Note and noise accompany each other. First and last follow each other. You can’t have the one without the other.
But, it goes deeper still. We need to talk about the importance of Lao-tzu’s “that” and “this” in today’s verse. What is that? And, what is this? Why does “that” become beautiful and good at the expense of “this” becoming ugly and bad?
It should be easy to understand that “that” is something external to you. It is over there. You don’t think you have it. But you want it. Why has “that” become beautiful and good? Because you have turned your eyes to it and desire it. Meanwhile, “this” is internal. It is what you already have, what you should be satisfied with,
Ah, but the moment you look outside yourself and set your eyes on “that,” “this” becomes ugly and bad to you. It is all subjective. Don’t worry. If “that” ever becomes “this,” and “this,” becomes “that,” you will only find yourself spinning around in circles with changing desires. And, if you keep on looking outside yourself, it is no telling how many times what is beautiful and good, and ugly and bad, will change.
And that isn’t the Immortal Way, the Eternal Reality. We already covered that. What changes can’t be the Eternal Reality. But, it certainly seems to be your eternal reality. Doesn’t it? However, it doesn’t have to be this way. You can break that cycle. You can “wake up.”
Notice how sages do it. They don’t look after all the things that arise. Nor do they depend on them as they develop. And, when they reach completion, sages never claim them as their own. Now watch it. Because they don’t claim them, they are never without them.
Instead of focusing on what is outside of themselves, sages cultivate what is inside of themselves. And, being content with “this,” they are never without “that.”
Red Pine introduces the following with today’s verse:
LU HSI-SHENG (FL. 890). High official and scholar known for his wide learning. His commentary reflects the view that Lao-tzu and Confucius were the spiritual heirs of Fu Hsi (ca. 3500 B.C.), with Lao-tzu emphasizing the yin and Confucius the yang aspects of the Way of Heaven. Tao-te-chen-ching-chuan.
FU HSI (CA. 3500 B.C.). Sage ruler of ancient times and the reputed inventor of the system of hexagrams on which the Yiching is based.
WU CH’ENG (1249-1333). One of the great prose writers of the Yuan dynasty, surpassed only by his student Yu Chi (1272-1348). His commentary shows exceptional originality and provides unique background information. It is also noted for its division of the text into sixty-eight verses. Tao-te-chen-ching-chu.
LU HUI-CH’ING (1031-1111). Gifted writer selected by Wang An-shih to help draft his reform proposals. His commentary, presented to the emperor in 1078, is quoted at length by Chiao Hung. Tao-te-chen-ching-chuan.
WANG WU-CHIU (FL. 1056). Scholar-official. He gave up a promising official career in order to devote himself to studying and teaching. Lao-tzu-yi.
WANG AN-SHIH (1021-1086). One of China’s most famous prime ministers. His attempt to intorduce sweeping reforms directed against merchants and landowners galvanized Chines intellectuals into a debate that continues to this day. He was also one of China’s great poets and prose writers. His commentary has been reedited from scattered sources by Yen Ling-feng. Lao-tzu-chu.
SUNG CH’ANG-HSING (FL. 1700). Taoist master and seventh patriarch of the Dragon Gate sect of the Golden Lotus lineage. His commentary on the Taoteching was a favorite of Emperor K’ang-hsi (r. 1662-1722). Tao-te-ching chiang-yi.