Tao Te Ching: Chapter 2 - The Master's Actions


Good evening friends! I wanted to take some time to write about the Tao Te Ching, specifically one of my favorite sections, chapter 2. In it, we find that Lao Tzu (the legendary author and narrator) speaks about how a master should ask. He points out the duality of nature. The Yin and Yang. You can't have one without the other and together, they are one. The black yang can not overtake the yin white. They move around each other, always in balance. Not ever able to control the other. Like two partners dancing. They both might be moving independently of each other, but each has a desired effect on the other. Together they are dancing one dance. 

When I first read chapter two a few years ago, the end of the chapter spoke to me the most. Specifically, the third stanza in which you discover that non-action is, in its way, still action. The master acts by not acting. Not interfering. She has but doesn't possess. I had a LOT of stuff when I first read this and noticed all the emotion and stress I placed into those things. In this chapter and others, I found the strength to let go of several old possessions and began to simplify my surroundings. 

Not only do your physical actions matter, but your verbal actions also matter. How many of us have had a child ask rude or inappropriate questions? You can only look at them. And even though you don't say anything, and you may not even move to look at them, your silence speaks volumes. It is this action without action, non-doing, non-action, that Taoism teaches us is the preferred method of leading and living. 

Below, you'll find Stephen Mitchell's translation of chapter two from the Tao Te Ching. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. I invite you to read it through many times and think about what it means to you. Let me know on Mastodon. @patrickstewart@thetaoist.online @patrickstewart@thetaoist.online. 

EDIT: The Mitchell translation is usually hotly debated within the English-speaking Taoist community. In an attempt to make the text as welcoming to new readers as possible, Stephen Mitchell chose to rephrase or simply change entire sentences, keeping the underlying meaning while using a different metaphor. He also changed the pronouns from He to She at various points, again, to make the text more accessible. There are several more accurate translations, but they can be harder to understand. Therefore, I chose to use the passage from Steven Mitchell's version since this is the version I used when I was learning. Please see the Derek Lin or Jane English/Fu Feng translation for a more accurate translation. 


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 is why it lasts forever.

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