The whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly; the whole world recognizes the good as the good, yet this is only the bad.
The idea the beautiful is only the ugly seems crazy at first. But, when I reflect on my actual experiences, I can understand. Thus, when I’m drawn to something beautiful, I also have a sense of what is NOT beautiful. And, in fact, the more beautiful I see something, the more repelled I am by the ugliness of its opposite. So, by emphasizing one side, I emphasize its opposite. It really is a circle; one side revolves to the other side.
The problem with admitting that the good is only the bad and that the beautiful is only the ugly, is that this seems to give license to all sorts of unhealthy behavior. Actually, though, all my unhealthy behaviors come from getting too narrowly focused on a one-sided reality; all I see is the good and beautiful of something, and I lose restraint. Knowing the good is only the bad makes me much more circumspect in my approach to life. It is enough to make me tentative, as if fording a river in winter [see ch. 15].
When I see the connection between one and all, distinctions blur, and the world becomes murky like muddy water [see ch. 15]. It is only after I start clinging to one side that the world becomes clear. And why do I cling to one side? Is it not because I feel the overpowering presence of the other side, and thus, I’m just seeking to regain my ‘cosmic’ balance; when I’m in ugliness I yearn for beauty.
The Taoist view that the whole world recognizes the beautiful as the beautiful, yet this is only the ugly is why Taoism never became a world religion. We all have an instinct to see the beautiful as the beautiful and so, don’t take well to the precept that this is only the ugly. Indeed, I have to let go of many cherished beautiful and ugly biases to truly comprehend and accept this precept. Thus, Taoism leaves me in a somewhat lonely place socially speaking, but mitigates that loneliness with a deeper connection to the ‘whole’—The multitude all have a purpose. I alone am foolish and uncouth. I alone am different from others And value being fed by the mother.
Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;
The difficult and the easy complement each other;
The long and the short off-set each other;
Note and sound harmonize with each other;
Before and after follow each other.
is the essence of the Taoist view for me. Whether or not Something and Nothing really do produce each other is immaterial. Seeing nature in this circular way affords resolution to all my worldly quandary, which gives me inner peace. Of course, in order to see nature as a circular reality, I must have faith that this is, in fact, true. But then, ‘true’ and ‘false’ produce each other as well. I always end up back at mysterious sameness [see ch. 56].
The idea that opposites, like something and nothing, difficult and easy and such produce each other was a bit disconcerting for awhile. It didn’t seem to afford a secure spot to live from. Now, this notion provides me the greatest security I’ve ever know. What changed? In fact, the idea that something and nothing are absolutes gives me the willies now. Such a divided mysterious whole gives rise to God and devil, heaven and hell.
I’ve always believed that something and nothing produced each other, at least until it came time to put my money where my mouth was. The more I yearn for the easy, the more difficult life becomes. Whatever I hold onto pulls me into its opposite. Letting go is what brings me peace. Alas, letting go has only come to me gradually over the years, as my sense of inner security has deepened. It seems everything hinges on security—my instinctual will to live. Maybe just getting closer to my own death is what has made the difference; It’s forced me to surrender some of my SELF to death’s reality.
Therefore the sage keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action and practices the teaching that uses no words.
When I feel circumstances slack, I’m pulled into action. I race about and get things done until I feel the ‘universe’ in order again. Ha! I’m just being hoodwinked by my biological instincts. When I can re-view circumstances from a deeper perspective, I’m able to wait, i.e., keep to the deed that consists in taking no action.
All my actions arises out of a sense of deficiency. Something will seem incomplete, and so I act to make it right. Of course, it all seems so objectively real and necessary at the moment. It is, however, only a reflection of my insecurity—of what I feel lacking in my life at the moment. The power of this illusion is such that it took me half a lifetime to begin to see through it. Why so long? I think it’s because I had to live this long to become secure enough to start to accept things the way they are.
Keeps to the deed that consists in taking no action is like the ‘act’ of loving appreciation. I behold perfection; this experience doesn’t depend on the condition of the object, but instead on the condition of my mind. Perfection is in the eye of the beholder.
I’m most compelled to speak my mind when I need to re-enforce my identity. Knowing this under-lying motivation of my own opinions allows me to see other’s opinions in fuller context; it is not so much what we say that is significant, it is what our opinions reveal about us, i.e., what we need to feel complete. Thus, practicing the teaching that uses no words compels me to look inward. I don’t need to learn a teaching, instead I need to practice what I already know. Of course, I’ve always found it easier to chase the ideal teaching rather than turn inward and pay attention to what I already know!
If I really know that something and nothing produce each other, I see nature’s cycles and accept that the good changes again into the monstrous [see ch. 58]. I have no choice but to practice the teaching that uses no words! I must seek faith beyond the tangible world (which words represent) which cycles eternally between the opposites.
This reminds me of Buddha’s 2nd truth: pleasures are the bait and the result is pain. In this case, words are a bait which promise truth, but which result in contradiction and confusion. Like pleasures, words won’t cause me problems if I don’t fall for the bait and expect truth.
The myriad creatures rise from it yet it claims no authority;
It gives them life yet claims no possesion;
It benefits them yet exacts no gratitude;
It accomplishes its task yet lays claim to no merit.
It is because it lays claim to no merit
That its merit never deserts it.
My need to claim merit comes out a sense of deficiency. When I really know merit, I am content and I don’t need any outward sign to augment it.
I only lay claim to that which I lack. When I have enough, I let go. When I accomplish my task as a complementary part of the whole, there is nothing left to be done, no claims to be made. When I can sense that I’m doing nature’s work, I feel complete—The way never acts yet nothing is left undone [see ch. 37].