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Living With The Tao Te Ching - Verse 2

Verse 2


When people see some things as beautiful,

other things become ugly.

When people see some things as good,

other things become bad.


Being and non-being create each other.

Difficult and easy support each other.

Long and short define each other.

High and low depend on each other.

Before and after follow each other.


Therefore the Master

acts without doing anything

and teaches without saying anything.

Things arise and she lets them come;

things disappear and she lets them go.

She has but doesn't possess,

acts but doesn't expect.

When her work is done, she forgets it.

That's why it lasts forever.


 

What Is It All About?


What I love so much about Tao Te Ching is the same thing that I love about poetry; the use of language to evoke, provoke, stir and inspire something within you. When you have trust for the author you dare to go beyond your initial responses to delve deeper, and see what the words that they have specifically chosen do for you, or conjure up within you.


The Tao Te Ching always does this to me. I am initially baffled by each verse. Some of it makes sense and I feel pleased, but then there are always sections that go totally over my head and I start to feel frustrated. I berate myself for not being clever enough to understand it, and then I gradually realise that it isn't meant to make perfect sense. In the very best way I believe the Tao Te Ching is meant to challenge us, it's meant to resonate within us and bring up stuff, both good and bad. That's what ironically this passage says to me.


The first two paragraphs of verse 2 speak to me about the paradoxes of life. When someone sees something as beautiful, the very process of having judged it as such means that there has to be something in comparison to it in order for 'beautiful' to exist. Beauty cannot exist in a vacuum, it has to therefore exist alongside it's opposite. If all there was was beauty then beauty wouldn't be beauty, it would just be normal. To see beauty we need to have ugly or 'not beautiful'. Similarly, as the verse continues, being needs non-being to exist; difficult requires easy; long is defined by short, high depends on low.


Essentially though, everything we label as beautiful, ugly, tall or short are just judgements of something that exists regardless of our thoughts about it. The tree isn't concerned with how tall it is. The tree doesn't compare itself to the tree next to it. The tree doesn't know if it is beautiful or ugly. We decide whether the tree is tall or ugly.


Tall, ugly, happy, wealthy. We learn to use these labels as they help us to shape our experience of the world. In the physical realm we live in there has to be this duality, that is what I have come to understand is it's very purpose - The physical manifestation of EVERYTHING, THE everything, consciousness, God, The Universe, The Big Bang, Reality, whatever we want to call it. It manifests and we have the opportunity and privilege of being the awareness that can potentially learn to just experience that unfolding, as and when it happens.


None of it is personal, it is just stuff appearing and going away again. This, however, is not such good news for our stubborn egos which thrives on defining itself based on creating a personality that owns and possesses and seeks power and recognition. The duality exists because it has to. We MUST HAVE evil to appreciate good. We NEED poor to create rich. The only problem comes when we get lost in the duality, when we believe our judgements of the duality. When we believe we are fat, ugly or poor - we are allowing our judgements and comparisons of other things to create our experience of ourself and our world.


As the final paragraph of verse 2 says;

Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.

Even our actions and words it seems are just things coming up and expressing themselves. We might judge them and make them personal - 'Did I do this right? Did I say something wrong?' - but essentially it is all just the Universe becoming manifest through us. When we learn to not expect anything in return for our actions, words and deeds then we become more of a vessel for everything to just pass through us without interruption from the ego and mind. The degree to which we allow this 'passing through' to occur without judgement is, I would imagine, the degree to which we can experience peace and our truest nature.

When her work is done, she forgets it.
That's why it lasts forever.

The last two lines of the verse are both the most puzzling and the most profound. I toiled with these for a few days before they sat right. 'When her work is done, she forgets it' - this one simple sentence beautifully undermines the entire legacy of the ego and it's desire in the outside world. With the ego in charge we toil, struggle, crave, desire, hunger for attention, fame, and lasting recognition. The Master though goes about her life doing what she does, then forgets it; no thought of anything else but the act itself at that moment and then she moves on to the next moment. Ironically, by living in the moment, The Master finds the eternity that the ego craves so badly, and yet the Master doesn't care, that's not what she does it for. 'That's why it lasts forever.'


 

How To Practically Apply Verse 2 In Ordinary Life


Let go.


We need to let go more and more of all the stuff that comes up both within our minds and in the outside world. The thoughts are just thoughts. They are only good or bad in comparison to other thoughts, or compared to certain expectations we have of what we 'should' or 'shouldn't' be thinking. They only really hurt us when we make them 'my thoughts'. If we can allow them to be just thoughts passing through we would experience greater peace of mind.

Letting them go is really the only way anyway. Have you tried to stop your thoughts? Did you have any joy with that? You are being 'thought', you are not doing the thinking. Just as you are being 'breathed', you aren't doing the breathing. Let the thoughts go, they aren't yours in the first place. Just relax around them. See them there and make a conscious choice to not follow their path. Let them go. Don't TRY and stop them. Don't DEMAND they leave you. Just see them for what they are and relax. They will leave themselves, in their own time.


Try and see the paradoxes in your life each day. See how they need to co-exist and try not to make one of them right or wrong. The sunshine and rain are a perfect paradox - the planet needs them both to thrive, at the very least we need them to see rainbows. The sunshine isn't better than the rain, only we make that judgement (usually when we are on a packaged beach holiday on the Costa Del Sol).


So you see we absolutely need the paradoxes and dualities in life in order to be able to fully experience the true wonder of being alive on this planet, right here, right now.



 

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