This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 2: The Nature of Duality

We will use James Legg's translation of this chapter:


All in the world know the beauty of the beautiful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what ugliness is; they all know the skill of the skilful, and in doing this they have (the idea of) what the want of skill is.

So it is that existence and non-existence give birth the one to (the idea of) the other; that difficulty and ease produce the one (the idea of) the other; that length and shortness fashion out the one the figure of the other; that (the ideas of) height and lowness arise from the contrast of the one with the other; that the musical notes and tones become harmonious through the relation of one with another; and that being before and behind give the idea of one following another.

Therefore the sage manages affairs without doing anything, and conveys his instructions without the use of speech.All things spring up, and there is not one which declines to show itself; they grow, and there is no claim made for their ownership; they go through their processes, and there is no expectation (of a reward for the results). The work is accomplished, and there is no resting in it (as an achievement).
The work is done, but how no one can see;

'Tis this that makes the power not cease to be.

Note:  James Legg sometimes chose to use rhyming verse in his translation of the Tao.  This is his device and is not found in the underlying Chinese text.

Tao Te Ching Chapter 2


This verse pursues a single idea through the first two verses then describes its application in the third verse.

Verses one and two explore the idea that we live in a world of opposites.  Tall goes with short, right with wrong, etc.  The danger it warns of is that you can't actually have one of these without the other.  Instance on food that tastes good begets conversation about food that tastes bad.  Therefor, there is always conflict in dualistic thinking.  Modern American Schools provide an interesting example of this issue.  face problems from this type of thinking daily.  Their goal is to prepare all children for the future and grow the self-esteem of all.  If, however, they they create situations where one, or only a small number of children can be the winner, the science fair, for example, then they have created an environment where many children must perceive themselves as the losers.  A curious problem indeed!  The solution that many schools have begun to embrace is the celebration of participation and effort rather than of competition.  If all children are praised for their participation, then there is no duailism created.

Stanza three gives a daoist solution to the problem.  By acting only when action is natural and unforced, and requesting no praise for their action, the taoist avoids having been, better or worse, or right or wrong.  The action was taken when the time for action arrived.  Then the action was forgotten.  In this way one may move with the Tao without creating duality.   

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  1. Ya know, on my blog, this is one of the reasons I rail against the capitalist system. Capitalism is predicated on the model of a few winners and lots of losers. It doesn't seem to be a very Taoist way of ordering society.

    1. Thank you Trey. I find that chapter 37 provides some excellent guidance on Taoist leadership as well.