Chapter 2: Soul Food
“Everybody on earth knowing
that beauty is beautiful makes ugliness.
Everybody knowing that goodness is good
~ Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way, trans. Ursula K. Leguin (Shambhala, Boulder: 2019)
To Western ears, this view is disappointing, perhaps even cause for despair. Western culture is based on winning—good triumphs over evil, God prevails over the Devil, humanity conquers nature, freedom overcomes tyranny, capitalism outcompetes communism. It’s an asymmetrical universe. Daoism seems to see a 50/50 universe—a draw.
But this would be mistaken. The most important word in today’s passage is “knowing.” It’s not that life isn’t beautiful and good. It’s when we, as individuals, communities, and nations, fall out of the experience of beauty and goodness and try to capture them with concepts. When we step out of the flow of experience and try to explain and defend it, we begin to turn it into something it’s not—into its opposite.
The holy trinity of the Greek philosophical tradition is “the Good, the True, and the Beautiful.” The danger Daoism cautions us against is collapsing the three into the True, and claiming to have knowledge of it, whether revealed in Scripture or discovered by Science. When “everyone on earth”—or just a critical mass of people—“knows” what is “right,” watch out. They’re usually in the grip of a theology or a theory. And those who disagree are by default cast as “ugly” and “wicked.”
Everyone on earth knowing that beauty is ugliness makes true beauty.
Everyone on earth knowing that goodness is wicked makes true goodness.
New to the Dao Du Jour? Check out “Day 0.”