We now move from the very abstract first chapter to the very concrete second chapter of the Tao Te Ching.
There are many wonderful chapters of the Tao Te Ching (out of 81 chapters in total) but the second chapter is one of my favorites because it touches on the ever-important issue of power and authority.
Human nature is to want attention and recognition. But attention doesn’t necessarily bring happiness and recognition doesn’t necessarily bring respect. In order to achieve true success we must decide for ourselves that “success” isn’t important in itself and that we won’t strive for it as our main goal.
But lets not spend too much time on the introduction this time and get started with the good part. First, chapter two in its whole:
Chapter 2 of the Tao Te Ching:
(Part one, my division)
When the world knows beauty as beauty, ugliness arises
When it knows good as good, evil arises
Thus being and nonbeing produce each other
Difficult and easy bring about each other
Long and short bring about each other
High and low support each other
Music and voice harmonize each other
Front and back follow each other
(Part two, my division)
Therefore the sages:
Manage the work of detached actions
Conduct the teaching of no words
They work with myriad things but do not control
They create but do not posses
They act but do not presume
They succeed but do not dwell on success
It is because they do not dwell on success
That it never goes away
The structure of the chapter
I went through almost every single line of chapter one in its post separately. Chapter two is different since all lines build up to a common conclusion and it’ll therefore be sufficient to divide it into two general parts.
Part one of the chapter
“When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That’s relativity.” Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein became very famous for his theory of relativity, but the ancients knew of the relative nature of the world long before this.They understood that even comparison itself is relative and subjective of nature.
There is this famous saying that I like: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Well most things is truly in the eye of the beholder. We often forget to think of why other people might see a situation differently than we do. Whats going on here is our id and ego bullying our super-ego.
For me, change became easier to accomplish when I started to accept that other people might have a good point in their point of view of things. Actually people almost always have a good point, and listening to other people’s critique is one of the best ways to achieve real change in life.
I also used to think about what people could do for me. Now I think about what I can do for them. Kind of like John F. Kennedy’s famous memorial day quote (ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you an do for your country).
If we accept and let go of the relativism of things we’ll be better off. For example, instead of thinking of something as “difficult to achieve”, you are better of thinking of it as “a challenge”. You want something enough in life? Accept the challenge like Barney Stinson would.
Anyway, I realize this is not much of a direct commentary on the individual lines. Look at it as a distillation of the essence of the chapter.
Part two of the chapter
Then there is the second part of the chapter, starting at “therefore the sages..”
With all of the above in mind, the sages do not “control” because that would only lead to resistance. We do not develop any attachment to the results of our “actions” because this will either lead to failure or to the desire to achieve even more. We must be content in the moment and with what we have now.
Similarly, there is great happiness to be found in sharing without asking for anything in return. Before the end of 2013 I will release a free e-book because I like to be a part of the conversation. Making someone else happy or helping someone to improve their life is the greatest gift of all in itself, especially when they express their gratitude in words (edit: and otherwise). It is an amazing feeling.
Moving on, a sage will act without making any presumptions. The first part of the chapter taught us how difficult it is to really know anything, especially when it comes to other people. Open mindedness is one of the greatest virtues. If you go into a conversation having judged the other person beforehand, the only one who lose anything is YOU.
And finally, getting back to the very first thing I mentioned – authority – we must never dwell on success if we want to be truly successful – if we want to feel successful with ourselves.
Having become the boss of it all is not to be confused with having gotten “further in life” than your peers. On the contrary, even thinking about getting further in life than anyone else as a goal to begin with is a direct road to unhappiness.
I am here to a) challenge myself, b) grow happier, and to c) facilitate happiness in other people. On this road I might become “successful” at say blogging, but while I can find joy in the success I experience with that, it is not and should not be my end goal.
With that we are through our perhaps somewhat unconventional guide to the second chapter of the Tao Te Ching. As a Taoist I have no idea what I am doing here, to be frank, I am just doing what comes natural to me (as the concept of Wu-Wei teaches) and that is to write until my fingers bleed.
But I hope this post and the second chapter of the Tao Te Ching makes some sense relative to each other, for the least. As always, I encourage you to pick up the Derek Lin translation of the Tao Te Ching here. It is because of him that I am able to write this series.
- A short guide to the philosophy of the Tao and to the Tao Te Ching: Chapter 1 (themeasuredlife.net)
- Wu Wei, or action through non-action, or effortless action (themeasuredlife.net)