The Tao gives birth to One.
One gives birth to Two.
Two gives birth to Three.
Three gives birth to all things.
All things have their backs to the female
and stand facing the male.
When male and female combine,
all things achieve harmony.
Ordinary men hate solitude.
But the Master makes use of it,
embracing his aloneness, realizing
he is one with the whole universe.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 42, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
What Others Teach, I Teach Too
I don’t mind admitting, this, today. This is my least favorite chapter in the Tao Te Ching. And, it doesn’t help that I am typing this while sitting up in my bed, sick. If I get a little crazy with what I say, today, blame it on the fever. Of course, it isn’t that I am feeling a lot under the weather to make me not be too happy with today’s chapter. I have felt that way when I was feeling perfectly above the weather (whatever that is supposed to mean). It is simply because this particular chapter comes off as a bit esoteric in its wisdom. Just reading that first stanza I find myself asking what is this one, this two, and this three? And, why oh why, does Lao Tzu leave me in the dark? He has always been so good at explaining exactly what he means. I am sick, dammit! Don’t let me down now.
Thankfully, about a month ago, I did purchase Red Pine’s translation. If you have been reading my blog, recently, I have been referencing it a lot. Perhaps, Red Pine has some assistance to offer me.
“The Tao gives birth to one
one gives birth to two
two gives birth to three
three gives birth to ten thousand things”
Wait! Is this all a conspiracy?
I feel like even Lao Tzu is laughing at me right now.
Oh well, I got started with it, better continue…
“ten 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”
I guess it did get a little different from Stephen Mitchell’s translation. But, there is still no explanation for what is the one, the two, and the three. Thankfully, Red Pine also includes commentary from sages over the course of the last 2,000 years. I just know they won’t let me down.
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.”
This right here is just what I was talking about when I said its wisdom was too esoteric. Is there help here? Sure there is. But I am not feeling too keen on it. Maybe the next sage has something better to offer me.
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.”
Okay, I am getting that yin and yang are important here. But, are they the two, or are they the one and the two. Or, both? And is this meeting and merging breath?
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.
Now, I am really beginning to get a sense for exactly why I don’t like this chapter, at all. It is all yin. And, while I generally have a profound love for yin, it most certainly is dark and unfathomable. I am still holding out for bright and perceptible, here. Give me some yang, already!
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.”
Okay, I don’t have the slightest idea who or what the Yunchi Chichien is or was, but this is just as dark and unfathomable as we have been having all along. Did you not hear me when I said to give me some yang, already? I am a sick guy on what is likely his death bed (just kidding, I feel way too awful to die from this). But, is asking for bright and perceptible really too much to ask?
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.”
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Te-Ch’ing. First of all, since I am wallowing in self-pity right now, calling myself an orphan, a widower, or destitute, resonates with me on a deep personal level. Second, I can make the obligatory reference to Donald Trump’s giant ego.
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 ‘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.”
Thus concludes the sages’ wisdom on today’s chapter. I am going to end this, right here. I need to lay back down before I try to tackle the next chapter.