As soon as the world regards something as good, evil simultaneously becomes apparent.
In exactly the same manner, existence and non existence, give birth to each other.
Difficult and easy define each other.
Long and short form each other.
High and low make each other distinguishable.
Silence and sound, make each other conspicuous.
Front and back, connect each other.
Realizing this, one does not separate one's being from the subtle essence of the universe.
One holds no preconceptions, and does things without insisting on personal conditions.
One guides people by living in accord with the essence of life.
One brings good things about but has no intention of possessing them.
One performs work, but has no intention to acquire personal power when one's task is accomplished one let's go of it and seeks no reward or recognition.
Because one does not claim credit for one so one does not do any damage to oneself and his or her virtuous influence endures.
—-Chapter 2 of the Tao Teh Ching, Complete Works of Lao Tzu, Translation and Elucidation by Hua Ching Ni, Tao of Wellness Press
How's that for a leadership guide perhaps for city, state, country and for the world?
Leadership starts from within. This chapter discusses several very important concepts and practices within the Integral Way Tradition as it defines the polarity of all things and phenomenons of nature and of the universe. These are the mere expressions of yin and yang. It also encourages the unification as opposed to the separation. As students of Tai Chi will appreciate that the entire practice of Tai Chi is based on the alternating movement of yin and yang, complementary movements to each other even though they may appear to be opposites in motion, like contraction and relaxation of muscles, but they are indeed complimentary. And it is also by this polarity that we can see and discern the difference between two expressions of the whole.
However, at the end of the day these differences are also merely conceptual. Because when we insist on their differences and the contrasting definitions, we become partial, in favor of one or another. Think of good and evil, black and white or right or wrong. Instead, think of day and night, these are simply two halves of a 24-hour period. As soon as we divide and separate, we lose the understanding that the wholeness is the reality. Life, as a whole cannot be separated, neither can mind and body nor front and back, feminine and masculine, day and night, active and rest--these must complement one another as parts of the whole.
"As soon as the world regards something as beautiful, ugliness simultaneously becomes apparent. And as soon as the world regards something as good, evil simultaneously becomes apparent." When you're parenting kids, of course, the first inclination is to teach the children to be and do good, because you want them to understand that when they violate the manmade rules and laws, they will get punished. Yet, the tao advises that when people have become lost from the natural way, manmade laws becomes the default. If you follow the natural way and when you violate the subtle universal law, there is always a natural consequence. In some way, you don't need to define what it is if you live naturally for when you stay up late at night and sleep in during the day, you feel groggy and do not feel good. When you run out in the middle of winter in Minnesota with just a T-shirt and develop pneumonia you learn quickly what is right or wrong, naturally.
What one needs to do is merely observe the universe, and then suddenly the universal law becomes clear in terms of what is in harmony with it, and what is in violation of it. It isn't necessary that we need to define good and evil, or beautiful and ugly, but rather that they are natural expressions of the universe. An example would be that we generally regard the universe as benevolent, and that it's always good. Then again, is it? Well, not if you were a victim of a hurricane, typhoon, earthquake, or wildfire or any of the natural calamities or disasters. if you are a victim of a natural disaster or you are in the winter years of your life, do you then regard that as good or bad? This is a challenge for the human mind because we're taught that we should always be seeking the good and the beautiful and that we should avoid anything that creates negativity or make us sick.
The human mind defines things in very narrow terms. What we need to do is go back to our spiritual studies and meditation and cultivation in order to to understand that the reality of the world and of our lives is to live in the the midpoint between yin and yang and the constant oscillation and balance between the two poles. That's where the creative, productive and healthy life exists. Because when we seek only beauty then we also ignore and discriminate against the so-called ugly. Ugly, in fact, can be just as nourishing and useful. I recall in my late teens after I moved out of my parent's house and lived on my own, I sustained on very little money. I used to go to the supermarket--it was the local Co-Op and I'd head towards the back of the store or near the entry to the stockroom, the workers would put out a rack full of produce that were bruised or slightly damaged or shall we say, ugly. However, they were substantially marked down from the regular price and just as nutritious!
The beautiful part of that story, of course, is that I subsisted on these ugly, bruised, produce that shoppers did not want because of their appearance for a number of years and, and it served me just perfectly because there was nothing wrong with the produce because they were just a little bruised during transport--it did not affect their nutritional content. What the world has become is that we go to the market and we pick through the good looking produce including beautiful apples, strawberries and the vegetables. We insist that things look beautiful and we end up paying high price for these. But if you think about it, is it necessary that we should always seek to have beautiful food instead of plain yet nutritious food? Do you want to spend your hard earned money for beautiful food? Marketers specialize in appealing to your proclivity for "beautiful things". Better watch your wallet!
What about all these adored furnishings and the things that we accumulate in our lives-- these so called beautiful objects? Instead of practical and useful, we succumb to our desires for beautiful and yet impractical things. Likewise, we also like to associate with beautiful and good looking people in our circle and yet it's the everybody else whom may not fit your definition of beautiful that keeps the world turning. They include the people behind the scenes like the clerks at the grocery store that keeps it stocked, the delivery drivers who bring food to your doors, and the people that clean your house, your clothes and take care of your children.
And those at the front lines, including the healthcare workers taking care of the sick, the police patrolling the streets and the firemen that put out the fires—no question they are critical and lifesaving and should get the credit and yet the behind-the-scenes people are unacknowledged and forgotten. Is this not the yin and yang, one is in the spot light while the other is in the shadow and yet both perform important and critical functions for our sustenance. We need to stop our conceptual division, stop our discrimination and embrace the whole of world and of life.
“As soon as the world regards something as good, evil simultaneously becomes apparent.”
what is evil?” Evil can be defined as anything that may threaten the health and the survivability of our lives or in some cases, a perceived threat. So is it proper to say that we don’t want evil in our lives? Yes, that’s generally true but we must realize that it is contextual. Perhaps we can use another word to describe it better—negative energy which may compromise your health and survival.
But yet, negative energy exist everywhere in nature, including in people. Would you say that winter is evil or negative because it causes destruction of vegetation and terminates lives of countless insects and animals? Or a forrest fire that flattens plains and hills? Yes, in destruction there is negativity as life is threatened and yet after the dead of winter and a forrest fire, life is renewed, once again.
In another instance, a virus would typically be considered evil and negative as it makes one sick. However, once you get over the cold or the flu you develop antibodies that will protect you against it, if you should encounter it again. Is a vaccine evil as it contains viruses? Once the virus has been “defanged” as in a vaccine, the “negative energy” is neutralized and the beneficial antibodies protection is the conversion of the negative into “positive energy.” What about scientist using viruses to treat cancer? What’s good and evil? It all depends on how and what you use it for. Similarly, gunpowder was invented in China. The Chinese used it to make tunnels and displays of magical fireworks. The West turned it into weapons of mass destruction, killing millions.
What about immigrants? Are they evil and negative as some people would perceive them to be? Well, if that’s the case with immigrants then every non-American Indian should be evicted from America as we are all children of immigrants on this US soil. The immigration to America of many people of diverse cultures and skills over the last four hundred years brought about the flourishing of a great nation—the greatest the world has ever seen in its short, civilized human history. Have there always been only the good and never the bad? The fact is there have always been good and evil, positive and negative, constructive and destructive elements throughout American history, and that of humanity’s. The key is to offer enlightened leadership and guidance so that everyone, no matter their role can become productive members of society.
Since negative energy or expression is part of nature, our task is to transform it into the positive. This is the reason we cultivate spiritually so that we become aware of what’s blocking our ability to thrive and evolve—the negative traits and transform that into the positive—the evil into enlightenment. The antithesis is allowing your life to become an imitation of reality TV shows. Apply the principle of transformation to our daily lives when we find ourselves in situations that we don't like, illnesses that make us sick or relationships that don't work out. It would serve us to stop for a moment, be still and step back from further entanglement. And observe and truly understand the meaning of these negative energy expressions and figure out how we can apply our knowledge and skills to transform it into more positive energy, or at least neutralize it.
The problem with defining what is good and what's evil in the world is that you end up generalizing, insisting that your perception is righteous and therefore take action that may be extreme that cause the loss of sensibility and balance and may lead to the opposite of your intended outcome. Human history is rife with persecutions of those who looked different, nonbelievers in a religion or those whose activities violates the church. In the Cleansing of the Temple narrative tells of Jesus expelling the merchants and drove the money lenders out of the temple, accusing them of turning the Temple into “a den of thieves” through their commercial activities.
Without a question, there have been corrupt bankers and financiers whom have brought the world to nearly ruins. And yet, when credit and loans are used prudently, they allow people to own their own homes, expand their livelihood and serve the public good. We don't throw an entire basket of apples out because of one rotten apple, should we ban all the bankers because of a corrupt few? Likewise, contemplate the good and evil in your life and ask yourself, am I being discriminatory? Do I have the correct perception of the situation or person? Am I jumping to conclusion and acting on my judgement prematurely? Stand at another vantage point and you may see something entirely different.
“In exactly the same manner, existence and non existence give birth to each other.” Before we are born, we’re nonexistent. After our birth, we are existent. Does life have a beginning and an end or is it a continuum without beginning or end—a loop? This concept deals with a time—pre heaven and post heaven (before and after the birth of the universe), prenatal and postnatal (of our lives) and past, present and future. Yet, time is a continuum and it’s the human mind that created an artificial way to track time, to separate time into past and future but in reality, present is not static but rather omnipresent.
Strictly from the human mind’s perception, the day is here so does that mean night does not exist at this very moment? In reality, right now it’s 7 am on Sunday morning in Los Angeles, time to rise and start my day, but in Fiji in the South Pacific it’s 2 am Monday morning in the future and yet in American Samoa—also in the South Pacific, a mere 2 hour flight away from Fiji, it’s 3 am Sunday morning, well in the past. So really, past, present and future are all happening at the “same time” but the most important lesson is you are here and now in your current existence—that’s what really matters.
“Difficult and easy define each other.” If you were a trust fund baby and decided to make your life easy by never getting out of bed, have servants bring you all you meals in bed, sleep, eat and use electronic devices at will and make no effort whatsoever to get the day’s routine going. What would be the outcome of that “easy” lifestyle? Not good for sure. For most people, it's a struggle just getting out of bed in the mornings. However, it is by overcoming the difficult, your day becomes easier.
It’s always the first step of any action that you want to take that you need to overcome inertia but once you get the ball rolling it gets easier, whether it’s starting an exercise program, changing your diet, or committing to living your life’s purpose. As Lao Tzu said, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Moreover, the contrast of easy and difficult is a perception, once again, as soon as you perceive something that is easy, difficult arises in contrast to the easy, and vice versa. Do not pigeonhole your mind and make it difficult for yourself in any situation. Look for the glass that’s half full so that easy and difficult will simply fall away.
“Long and short form each other, high and low make each other distinguishable.” The law of polarity, yin and yang describes both the physical measurement as well as cycles. When we take a step, we must necessarily contract or shorten one muscle and relax or elongate the opposing muscle simultaneously, in order to move. The mountain is high and reaching into heaven and the valley is low, deeper into earth. They are merely expressions of two aspects of the whole. Likewise, in modern times we use many types of charts to input data and interpret them for cycles in weather, economy, social trends and multitudes of industries. Ultimately, we use them to identify long and short cycles of high and low values that educate and inform. A peaceful and healthy life prefers long cycles of small waves rather than disruptive large waves.
“Silence and sound make each other conspicuous.” Sound is part of communication among humans and nature. In our “who can make the most noise gets the attention” world, silence is not valued as a virtue because it is inconspicuous. Sound is an energy that oscillates with waves. Our world is noisy, even in the quiet moment there’s the humming and whirling of refrigerator, computer or air conditioning providing background noise that when exposure to it exceeds 60 decibels (which is most fridges) for more than 4 hours a day can increase one’s risks of developing heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. My sister-in-law once remarked, after she visited my father’s house in the woods of Oregon, “I could not sleep at night because it was so silent and quiet!” The extreme imbalance of sound and silence in our modern life leaves little for reflection and restoration. Get some silent time and you’ll know what I am talking about.
Front and back connect each other.” As humans we have the front side that face the world and must necessarily hide our back and yet we cannot separate the two sides of ourselves. In other words, we present the “good side” to the world but what about our “back side”, the parts that we don’t want the world to see or even for ourselves to see? Yet, it’s there part of us, part of the whole and cannot be ignored because it’s connected to our entire being. What does it mean to be authentic? It means to embrace all of you, first accept who you are, and improve on aspects that are deficient and evolve to actualize your full potential, but never be embarrassed by your back side.
“Realizing this, one does not separate one's being from the subtle essence of the universe.” And again, the conceptual mind separates everything including our selves—I, me and myself, from you, he and she, also from nature and from the universe. It is this separation when the ego is allowed rein that creates a lot of the unnecessary struggles and difficulties in life. Because when you naturally embrace and unify your being with the subtle essence of the universe, you stop the struggles. You realize that you're not alone. You are part of a greater whole, connected to the source of all existence.
“One holds no preconceptions and does things without insisting on personal conditions.” What if you got up in the morning and went about your day living your life’s purpose and being of service unconditionally to others when needed? When your mind is filled with what you want to do or how the world ought to be then you are surely setting yourself up for possible disappointment because trying to control your environment, other people and the world is simply futile. You may think life is like a laboratory where the variables of your experiments are all controllable. Yet, life isn’t a laboratory with controlled conditions but rather life, as in nature is fluid, changeable and dynamic. In order to find peace and balance, stop trying to insist on your way and instead allow your activities to be expressions or reflection of the greater purpose.
“One guides people by living in accord with the essence of life.” The teachers of the world, from preschools to graduate universities, from churches to temples, and from state capitals to corporate board rooms all have the responsibility of teaching by example which is to treasure and value the wholeness and sanctity of life. How can we expect a better world and life when politicians are corrupt, priests guilty of sexual misconduct, and corporate chieftains consumed with greed? How is each succeeding generations supposed to trust, develop and advance on the shoulders of giants—their ancestors when those who are in a position to guide others lose their way? And students must not project onto their teachers their own desires and inadequacies and also must be mindful that even teachers themselves are not perfect and are still evolving and working on themselves.
“One brings good things about but has no intention of possessing them.” When you help the world and give of yourself and you produce something that's truly beneficial and positive, don’t try to possess it because these deeds are merely expressions of you. As soon as you try to possess it, you're bound to lose it. And when you do, that's when conflict and pain can arise. So whether it's possession of material, emotions or love, loss always brings suffering. In fact, when you try to possess love it turns on you, unleash an angry and jealous monster within you.
“One performs work but has no intention to acquire personal power. When one's task is accomplished, one let's go that then seeks no reward or recognition. Because one does not claim credit for oneself, one does not do any damage to oneself.” This is a guide for the leaders of the world and in communities. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the leaders of the world, a country, a city, performs good work, but has no intention to acquire personal power? What would the world look like? This reminds me of the enlightened period of the Three Sovereigns and the Five Emperors in Chinese history starting with Fu Xi, Shen Nong to Huang Di—they were all elected leaders who were chosen because of their vision, capabilities and virtuous deeds. Once the current leader finds someone else whom the community regarded as surpassing them, each would persuade the next to accept the leadership position and then retreat back into their peaceful lives.
Do you see Mother Nature claim credit for her benevolence? Her gracious giving, her abundant crop, her healings, her life giving? No, nature does not claim credit for herself. Likewise, when you offer your sincerity and your energy to the world, to your neighbors, to the company that you work for, to the customers that you take care of you're offering your positive, creative, and loving energy just like mother nature. What you receive in return is an expression from another in response to your offering. And yet, you have no expectation in return for your deeds. In this way, you suffer no disappointments or loss.
Do not become attached to any outcome because the outcome from our action is not always predictable. As soon as we make our sincere offer, we let it go and have no expectations so we can be free to move on to the next moment. When you can live your life this way, you become aligned with the universe, the higher purpose and you become inseparable from the divine universal essence.