Dao De Jing Chapter 2

mandula 005 3x5 jpgWhen beauty is universally affirmed as beauty, therein is ugliness.
When goodness is universally affirmed as goodness, therein is evil.
Therefore: being and non-being are mutually posited in their emergence.
Difficult and easy are mutually posited in their complementariness.
Long and short are mutually posited in their positions.
High and low are mutually posited in their contradiction.
Voice and tone are mutually posited in their unity.
Front and back are mutually posited in their succession.
Thus, the wise deals with things through non-interference and teaches through no words.
All things flourish without interruption.
They grow by themselves, and no one possesses them.
Work is done, and no one depends on it.
Achievements are made, but no one claims credit.
Because no one claims credit, achievements are always there.


Before commenting on Chapter 2, theDao De Jing Video Clip in the last entry has a macro view of the essence of the Dao De Jing. It tells us the Dao De Jing has some very broad and deep ideas that will challenge our western way of thinking. The new awareness, we are pursuing is a new insight simultaneously into the universe and into ourselves – in other words the broad and deep structure of the universe is in us! What is in each of us is permanent, has always been there, is made up of an inner greatness and an equally possible inner failure, is always trying to manifest itself and it is our task to first comprehended and then to harness this force.

A key idea here is inherent – which suggests that we look within for our names have been written a priori in heaven. Jesus gives us this understanding in Luke 10:20 when the people rejoiced in seeing that they had power over demons to which Jesus responds, “do not rejoice in this, that the sprits are subject to you: but rejoice that your names are written in haven.”  Nineteen hundred years later, Jung (Psychology and Religion) puts it this way, “The Self, like the unconscious, is an a priori existent out of which the ego evolves. It is, so to speak, an unconscious pre-figuration of the ego.” The important point for us is realizing that our individuality has this a priori unconscious existence and that our quest is to discover its meaning. (See earlier post Deep Jesus, Us?).

What is exciting is that each of us is uniquely being called to occupy a precise place in the cosmic order no matter where or in what era we live and the Dao “invites us to try to live in direct relationship to all these forces.” This is the governing dynamic awareness that John Nash realized when he discovered that Adam Smith needed revision. The Dao De Jing is a way to address Nash’s “governing dynamics” a revision in understanding what it means to “do what is best for oneself and for one’s group” This is the political debate we are currently immersed in.

Governing Dynamics

The Dao De Jing we see is certainly broad, deep, and encompasses all of these meanings that will be addressed as our reading of the Dao De Jing continues.

Metaphysically the term Dao refers to the way things are.
Psychological it refers to the way human nature is constituted, the deep dynamic structure of our being.
Ethically it means the way human beings must conduct themselves with others.
Spiritually it refers to the guidance is offered to us, the methods of searching for the truth that have been handed down great sages of the past – the way of inner work.

Chang Chung-yuan, the translator and commentator on the Dao De Jing, who is guiding our reading, begins his introduction that the west first became aware of the Lao Zi in 1788 when a Latin translation was presented the Royal Society in London. Chang’s next reference is to G.W.F. Hegel, who in 1816 mentions Lao Zi’s writings in a University lecture and took pride in saying “I have seen them myself.” Hegel is an important western thinker that we will study and Chang begins his introduction by first citing Hegel: “Without a name Dao is the beginning of Heaven and Earth, and with a name she is the Mother of the Universe. It is only in her imperfect state that she is considered with affection; who desires to know her must be devoid of passions. … is nothing, emptiness, the altogether undetermined, the abstract universal, and this is called Dao, or reason.” (Hegel’s lectures on the history of philosophy).

Chapter 2’s commentary then begins with a comparison of the dialectics of Lao Zi and Hegel, focusing on the “self-identify of contradictions”. The dialectics inherent in both men’s thought are identical in that the dialectical process is a “reality where things pass over into their opposites, …is the basis of all motion and existence; the principle that governs the world.” What Hegel states, “In every distinguishing situation, each pole is for itself that which it is; it also is not for itself what it is, but only in contrasting relation to that which it is not” is identical to Lao Zi’s beginning statement, “When beauty is universally affirmed as beauty, therein is ugliness. When goodness is universally affirmed as goodness, therein is evil” (Hegel, Encyclopedia of Philosphy).

For Hegel the “dialectical process is a process of negation where opposites are mutually posited” and where he states, “Every dialectical negation relates real opposites, which may be distinct, different, contrary, or contradictory. Negation thus posits what it excludes” (Ibid). Lao Zi expresses this same idea in, “Being and non-being are mutually posited in their emergence. Difficult and easy are mutually posited in their complementariness.” Chang then cites Murti  suggesting that from this common point the dialectic of Lao and Hegel depart, in that Hegel’s dialectics is “a passage from a lower concept with a lesser content to a higher greater content” …and culminates in the idea of the concrete absolute, which is the most comprehensive unity of all” (7).

Chang’s position is that Lao Zi’s dialectic has no elevating movement toward a fixed goal of comprehensive, rational absolute.” There is, however, what Nishida calls the “self-identity of contradictions, … where the opposites of being and non-being, or beauty and ugliness, are mutually identified within themselves and not in any higher synthesis. … there is no progression toward an absolute beyond all contradictions.” Chang’s understanding of Hegel’s dialectic is incorrect and in fact Hegel’s dialectic is identical to Lao Zi’s.

Giegerich’s presents the argument on Hegel’s stance: “Dialectic thinking thus has a lot to do with ‘making conscious’ and getting inside the topic at hand. This is why we have to uncompromisingly reject the popular misconstrual of dialectical thinking as characterized by the tripartite of scheme of thesis – antithesis – synthesis. The scheme is (a) historically and philologically speaking not Hegelian, (b) in itself mindless, mechanical, unthinking, and (c) views what it calls thesis and antithesis outside, like objects that need to be reconciled or united. …There is no need for a solution here, but rather the insight and realization that the experience of the opposites was due to a superficial and preliminary view. So the dialectical movement, instead of seeking a future solution, is going under; it makes explicit the presuppositions that had unwittingly been behind and inherent in one’s initial assumptions; it goes back and down to the deeper Ground that had been there all the time and had merely not been seen. As we might put it in psychology, consciousness had been too unconscious, superficial, too undifferentiated, too prejudiced. The union of opposites (or the resolution of the contradiction) is precisely the prior reality, and a reality from the outset, not something to be created. What has been there from the beginning is allowed to catch up with consciousness, to come home to consciousness” (Giegerich et.al., Dialectics & Analytical Psychology: 5).

With this stated, Chang continues introducing us to Lao Zi’s dialectics in that “The wise deals with things through non-interference and teaches through no-words”, in other words it makes explicit the presuppositions that had unwittingly been behind and inherent in one’s initial assumptions; it goes back and down to the deeper Ground that had been there all the time and had merely not been seen.” It is through what Lao Zi calls non-interference that one “silently identifies with objective reality”, seeing reality from the outset, there from the beginning – letting this come home to consciousness. Experiencing this inner reality Chang quotes Nishida’s A Study of the Good to give us a feel for what it means to come home to consciousness. Nishida’s description is:

To experience means to know events precisely as they are. It means to cast away completely one’s own inner workings, and to know in accordance with the events. Since people usually include some thought when speaking of experience, the word “pure” is here used to signify a condition of true experience itself without the addition of the least thought or reflection. For example, it refers to that moment of seeing a color or hearing a sound which occurs not only before one has added the judgment that this seeing or hearing relates to something external or that one is feeling this sensation, but even before one has judged what color or what sound it is. Thus, pure experience is synonymous with direct experience. When one experiences directly one’s conscious state there is as yet neither subject nor object, and knowledge and its objective are completely united.

With this direct, pure experience, the self-identity of contradiction is achieved, and then
the “one is the many and the many is the one.” When this selfless harmony is achieved, the Dao informs us “great things happen and no one claims credit, All things flourish without interruption, Work is done, and no one depends on it, Achievements are made, but no one claims credit.” May I suggest this is John Nash’s creative revelation that Adam Smith theory needed revision in that “one needs to do what is best for himself and for the group.” The difference in both Lao’s and Hegel’s dialectics as it relates to Smiths economic theory is that doing what is best for ourselves involves internal-psychological-work, not external-materialistic-work.

Dao De Jing Video Clip

Something mysteriously formed, born before heaven and earth, in the silence, in the void, standing alone and unchanging, ever present and in motion. Perhaps the Mother of 10,000 Things, I do not know its name, call it Dao. For lack of a better word, I call it great, being great it flows, it flows far away, having gone far, it returns.

The picture before us is of a cosmic force or principle that expands or flows outward or more precisely perhaps descends into the creation of the Universe of 10,000 Things.

Together with this we are told of a force or a movement of return. All of creation returns to the source but the initial coming into being is to be understood as a receiving of that which flows outward and downward from its center.

Every created entity ultimately is what it is and does what it does owing to its specific reception of the energy radiating from the ultimate formless reality.   

This movement from the nameless source to the 10,000 Things is De. And the unique being, man, called here the king is created to receive this force consciously and is called to allow his actions to manifest that force.

  3bjwst 7

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3 Responses to Dao De Jing Chapter 2

  1. Tom says:

    Thanks for the passage from Giegerich’s explaining dialectics. “The union of opposites (or the resolution of the contradiction) is precisely the prior reality, and a reality from the outset, not something to be created.” Very helpful!

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