Everyone recognizes beauty,
Only because of ugliness,
Everyone recognizes virtue,
Only because of sin.
Life and death are born together,
Difficult and easy,
Long and short,
High and low–
All these exist together.
Sound and silence blend as one,
Before and after are mutual in sequence.
The Sage acts without effort,
And teaches without talking.
All things flourish around him,
And he does not refuse anyone of them.
He gives, but not to receive,
He works, but not for reward,
He completes, but not for results.
He does nothing for himself in this passing world,
So nothing he does ever passes.
Keep it together
The second chapter of the Tao Te Ching clearly conveys to us a basic fundamental principle of the Universe: Everything is what it is, only in relation to something else. Hot is only hot when it can be compared to something cold. High is only high when in contrast to an object that is lower. There can be no THIS without THAT, and THAT does not exist without THIS. Like two sides of the same coin, they ‘go with’ each other. In a coin you have heads AND tails. There is no heads then tails afterwards; they both exist at the same time as a part of the same unit and they cannot be split apart without ruining the whole heads/tails system. And further more when an event happens, the mere happening of an event inexorably implies its exact opposite. Flipping a coin and getting heads up by necessity of the design implies that you also got tails down.
So in life good and bad go together. Just as it is pointless to think of one side of the coin and ignore the other, so too is it useless and just frustrating to think of only good without recognizing that the bad goes with it. What is bad draws its pejorative implications by being contrasted with that which we all agree is good. And things and events we call good find themselves hidden with that which we call bad.
Here Lao-Tzu seems to go off on a bit of a tangent and mentions the Sage. The Sage is an idea that Lao-Tzu will talk about many more times in the Tao Te Ching, and in fact one of the many ways the Tao Te Ching may be interpreted is as a guide to becoming a Sage. It is here in chapter 2 that we are told of the Sages attributes.
“The Sage acts without effort.”
It is clear from this that the Sage is one who lets simplicity and quick direct action guide his daily life. No effort. This does not mean laziness, but rather that the Sage does what he does so well, that he makes it look easy, and when he is observed doing it, we can’t quite be sure exactly how he does it, so easily does he accomplish his task. His success is rooted in both the Sages simple approach to his task and the simplicity of the tasks he would choose to complete. The Sage is not one to choose a big complicated thing to do. In Taoism if it can’t be done simply it shouldn’t be done at all. Of course that’s not to say it can’t be done, it very well can, but that if you actually carry out a huge, complicated ordeal then it will only be a matter of time before it fails, due to its own complicated nature. The Sage is one who is wise enough to know when things are too big and complicated, and disciplined enough to refrain from taking them on to begin with.
“The Sage teaches without talking.”
The Sage is a man of priceless wisdom, wisdom that stems from the simplicity of his daily life. Therefore one can learn from the Sage in the same manner as the Sage learned from nature: Observe, watch him live. The Sage is one who leads by example and if one observes his daily life and is inclined to think about what they see, then they will most certainly find that everything the Sage does is for a reason and usually that reason finds itself in some kind of a common sense approach to things that others view as complicated and sometimes impossible.
“All things flourish around him and he does not refuse any one of them.”
Openness and a very accepting nature are the trademarks of the Sage. By being compassionate and genuinely interested in those around him, he is welcomed wherever he goes. Things come his way, some things good, some bad, but regardless he accepts them all. He accepts good things with respect and humility and allows bad events to unfold as they would without resisting them. When the bad events pass as they invariably do, he moves on.
“He gives, but not to receive, He works, but not for reward, He completes, but not for results. He does nothing for himself in this passing world, so nothing he does ever passes.”
Humility is what the Sage excels in and it is with a humble heart that the Sage completes his daily task. Selfless in the nature, the man of character, the Sage does nothing for himself. Everything he does is for others, after all for the Sage, Tao provides all he needs. What more can he ask? Is there anything he could ask of people or of himself that Tao has not already taken care of?
On to Chapter 3