The Way bears one.
The one bears two.
The two bear three.
The three bear the ten thousand things.
The ten thousand things
carry yin on their shoulders
and hold in their arms the yang,
whose interplay of energy
orphans, widowers, outcasts.
Yet that’s what kings and rulers call themselves.
Whatever you lose, you’ve won.
Whatever you win, you’ve lost.
What others teach, I say too:
violence and aggression
My teaching rests on that.
This is the first time the text mentions the yin and yang, but these are fundamental principles, and why so much of the text pushes opposites against one another. To do one thing is to do another.
The poem begins with a mini cosmology that leads into the interplay of yin and yang. It’s something that feels true, and mimics, to a degree, what we know of physics. With the universe beginning from a single point and spreading. Energy rushing out from this point worked as a binding and destructive force, creating and dismantling the universe as it expanded.
It might be useful to have the yin and yang nearer the start of the text, but I like it’s place here, about halfway through. It forces us to wrestle with the paradoxes and interplay of oppositional forces throughout the Tao Te Ching without giving us a definition. When you give something difficult or complex a definition, it makes it too easy for us to rely on the definition without actually grappling with the meaning. So here we are at the halfway point and we’re only now being given a definition to a fundamental aspect of the Tao.
The poem ends, once more, with a statement of pacifism. Perhaps the most powerful and direct that the text has to offer.
I think it’s worth considering the structure of this poem. We begin with the universe, we move to the power structures of humanity, and we end with pacifism.
Consider this today.