The Good in Bad and Bad in Good: Tao Te Ching

No, this is not going to be any sort of Clint Eastwood parody, as original of a joke as that might have been. Rather, today I would like to discuss something quite a bit deeper than old western films. While I was in Korea, I read a 2,500 year old book called The Tao Te Ching written by Lao Tzu and translated into English by Stephen Mitchell. One of the very first sections in the book discusses the relationship between opposites:

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. 

Essentially, I believe he is saying that as soon as you make a judgement about something, you are creating the possibility for there to be an opposite. For instance, imagine there were no such thing as darkness. We would never have night, there would always be brightness everywhere at all times. Do you think we would even have a word for light? On the contrary, why don’t we have a word for “no air.” If there were random pockets of “no air” around the world where people would suffocate if they walked into them, then we would definitely have a word for it. However, since our entire planet is covered with air, we don’t need that word.

This of course relates back to the JAR concept I wrote about in the Conversations with God post a couple months ago, which states that all pain is in some way rooted in Judgement, Attachment, or Resistance. Lao Tzu was beautifully illustrating this point, over 2,500 years ago, by showing how every concept has an opposite, and therefore the creation of that concept creates its opposite. People often ask why there are so many bad people in the world. I even wrote recently about why bad things happen to good people, and yet it has always been so much simpler than that.  If we recognize that there is no such thing as good or bad, then questions like “Why is this happening to me?” and “Why does he get to have a nicer car than me?” seem superfluous – in fact, utterly useless.

THE TAKEAWAY: So how does this apply to our everyday lives? Well, if you remember the JAR Concept, all you really need to do is actively label the thoughts you are having as judgements, attachments, or resistances. Then drop it. There’s no need to spend energy breaking it down because that is resistance to the fact that it has already happened. If we can catch ourselves labeling someone else’s pants as too baggy or a car driving by as goofy, we can start to make progress toward removing judgements from our daily lives. Once we develop a habit of non judgment, there won’t be any good, bad, or ugly for us to deal with. All that’s left to enjoy is the joy of being alive.

9 thoughts on “The Good in Bad and Bad in Good: Tao Te Ching

  1. Awww grasshopper! But there is good and bad and it’s not always judement but a statement of reality. I tell people that i am not a judge but a fruit inspector. A tree either produces good fruit or bad fruit and in so doing either then it is a good tree or a bad tree. Now then, the bad tree that produces bad fruit can be useful in providing a great compose soil for the benefit of the good trees and so therefore you may have orchids of great trees because you were able to use the bad fruit as compose for the new good trees. Everything has a purpose but i believe there is a difference between good and bad, angel or devil, life and death, etc. But, as always, i enjoy the way you think.

  2. If there is no good or bad then it is OK to steal from someone, enslave someone, bully someone?
    Is love not good, helping someone in need-is this not good? To say that you like blue doesn’t mean that you don’t like other colors also, it is just your preference. I have difficulty imagining a world where anything goes, everyone may behave as they wish without regard for the others around him/her. Since there is no good or bad / right or wrong would that not be chaotic? Imagine a family, mom dad and 2 boys. Each may do as THEY want, eat what THEY want when THEY want, etc. What kind of a family unit would there be? Granted we would need no jails since nothing would then be illegal. I just think this concept, if carried to the full extent has some pretty bad consequences for mankind.
    On the other hand what if we were to treat others as we wished to be treated? What if we all put those we love first and ourselves last? What if we took care of each other and respected each other. There is a lot deeper place to go here but -another day. Just a few thoughts—–

  3. I feel like this is what was meant by “Let there be light.” When God said let there be light he automatically created darkness and therefore saying that all things must have their opposite. Leona and Alex, I think you both make a similar point in that all things CAN be good and bad. I am not arguing that there is no such thing as good and bad, however, I am just saying that calling that thing good or bad is what leads to the error. In the quote from the text it says, “…when people see something as good…” meaning that if that judgment of good or bad comes from us, as an individual, then to us it will also lead to something else becoming bad. Hamburgers are great until you have In N Out, then they’re just plain “non In N Out” hamburgers.

  4. Interesting example–we have friends that think IN and OUT are the best ever, we are ok with them and it sounds that they are definitely not on your list. This is a matter of taste-literally. But good and bad in a fruit (Alex’s example) is a matter of reality, not like or dislike the taste but a matter of not having grown well because of any number of reasons–defective seed, bad soil, etc. Example : one person may not like oranges and another person loves them—you can get a bad orange, sour, dry , spoiled. It would be “bad” to either person. I think there is a difference between a person not liking someone or something and good or bad behavior. L

    • I understand what you mean about taste and how one can say that something is good if it is not rotten. However, who is to say that there are not supposed to be rotten fruits and that they are therefore bad. It takes a human being looking at the fruit to call it bad. Otherwise, it is just a fruit at a certain stage in its life. Therefore the human’s judgment creates “bad fruit or good fruit.” The universal prospective, I believe that which Lao Tzu is referring to, is that there is no such thing as good or bad – there is only the being and non being- existence and non-existence. And in that way each thing has its place and is a part of the whole – God’s creations.

      I don’t think we are actually disagreeing here. It’s seems that we’re merely making different points.

  5. I think it is a matter of interpertation. Everything has its purpose in the cycle of life. While God has a plan we have free will. The choice to accept or reject. The choice to choose between right or wrong, good or bad. Everything an individual does effects someone else, something else. L

    • I agree that choice and free will are inherently human traits, however, if God gave them to us then weren’t they his in the first place? And if God has a plan then what place does free will play in that plan? Interesting discussion topic. Let’s discuss over the holidays. =)

  6. We cant not make judgements, its just natural. Maybe with this quote he is just calling attention to opposites to balance out too much focus on one side. I get caught on one belief for a long period of time and it starts to become heavy, so thinking differently for its own sake and to be balanced is the way to go, maybe.

    • That’s a very good point Sean. I agree with you that it could be that. Even better, it maybe be meant to mean whatever the reader wants it to, hence the ambiguities. However, I think that just that fact that it makes us think so deeply makes it worth reading.

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