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Black or White….

February 18, 2010

Tao Te Ching 2

                Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness. All can know good as good only because there is evil.

                Therefore having and not having arise together. Difficult and easy complement each other. Long and short contrast each other. High and low rest upon each other. Voice and sound harmonize each other. Front and back follow one another.

                Therefore the sage goes about doing nothing, teaching no-talking. The ten thousand things rise and fall without cease. Creating, yet not. Working, yet not taking credit. Work is done, then forgotten. Therefore it lasts forever.

                Over 2500 years ago, Lao Tzu already identified the bi-polar nature of man. We are raised and encouraged, conditioned and reminded, to see everything in the world in one way or another. Everything gets a label: good or bad, right or wrong, sweet or sour, hot or cold, conservative or liberal, simple or complicated, strong or weak, etc. True neutrality is rare in the conventions of mankind, another departure from nature as we are coached to identify every little aspect of life as being on either side of a judgmental fence. Our news media is filled with reports of foods and medicines that are good or bad for you, stories about political and social conditions that are viewed as either beneficial or ruinous, news about happenings in the world and local communities that often are skewed to either favor or tragedy, and financial updates to tell us if we’re getting richer or poorer. Even the weather is forecasted with angles of positivity or negativity.

                How can you call rain a “bad thing?” It’s only precipitation, part of the natural cyclic atmospheric activity of the planet, essential to our survival, and necessary for our agriculture. To categorize snow in a negative vein is equally as senseless, as it is merely “rain” during a period of lower atmospheric temperature. It would be foolish to assume that it wouldn’t or shouldn’t ever snow in a place that the climate allows for it. If Antarctica was consistently demonstrating subtropical temperatures, then it would be raining frequently there instead of snowing. What’s the difference?

                It is an unfortunate condition of humanity to divide the ten thousand things into categories. In that, it’s also part of the ten thousand things to divide the ten thousand things into categories. Lao Tzu, in his sage wisdom, knew that it was man’s nature to divide and classify, and so he demonstrated to us that in order to identify one thing, you must also identify its polar opposite. You cannot identify something as “peace” without identifying something else as “the absence of peace,” whether you call it “war,” “aggression,” “violence,” or whatever else. You can’t objectify beauty without finding something to condemn as ugliness.

                The Tao doesn’t see things that way, remaining ever-neutral, constantly centered with neither favor nor fault for anything. In Tao, everything simply is, lacking malice, prejudice, pride, or comparison. Therein lies the explanation for the closing of the verse, accounting for how work can last forever if it is simply done and abandoned. Without seeking judgment for work, it is simply “done,” left to the ages, without words to declare its success or failure.

                Could you imagine a world in which we didn’t “grade” everything, but simply lived, each in our own roles and parts?

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