The Dao de Jing ~ The transformational quality of seeing the beauty in all things.

Tao te Ching ~ Laozi ~ Stephen Mitchell

Tao te Ching ~ Laozi
trans. Stephen Mitchell

I can’t remember when I first encountered The Dao de Jing (also Tao te Ching, pronounced the same), which surprises me since it quickly grew to become my favourite written text. It’s brief (just 81 chapters of verse, a page or so each) yet richly nuanced. I’ve read all or parts of it dozens of times and always discover some new way of seeing or gain some clarity in every reading. The verses cover all aspects of living: love, death, leadership, war, existence itself. On the whole, it’s a book about mastering the art of living.

This is a text I will come back to time and again within this blog, just as I do in my own life. I’ll try to keep the entries brief, concise, though I’ve not mastered Lao Tse’s artful concinnity. This first post is a little something about beauty and ugliness, inspired by a post on a very wise woman’s blog. What I write here so bluntly, she writes beautifully, implicitly, within a story about her own personal journey to discovering the beauty in something once judged ugly. The story there amplifies the meaning here.

When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

~ The Tao te Ching (Chap. 2), Lao Tse
Stephen Mitchell (trans.)


What Lao Tse is saying with this verse, I think, is that we create both ugliness and beauty by applying those names to objects. Because we believe one exists, we create the other.

Put another way, we have many names for things, and many adjectives to describe them, to tack on more names for them. Beauty has an antonym: ugly. If we call one thing beautiful, then something else must be ugly. Since these are antonyms, a thing can only be beautiful or ugly.

The qualities that make something ‘beautiful’ also have their antonyms. So, when we see something that is fat rather than thin, we think, “ugly.” Bumpy rather than smooth. Awkward rather than graceful. Squat rather than lithe. When we encounter something that possesses all these antonyms of beauty, we give it a name: ugly.

But if we look at anything long enough, with an open heart and open mind, we see that everything and anything, no matter how ugly, possesses qualities of beauty as well. The beauty inherent in these things may grow enough in our consciousness to overwhelm the qualities we name as ugly until we see the beauty in round rather than angular, the smooth underlying the bumpy, the inner grace undaunted by awkwardness. A thing we once named ugly becomes its opposite, beautiful, as if the ugliness itself dissolved. But all we have done is rename a thing. The thing hasn’t changed; we have.

That, I think, is the path to seeing the beauty in all things. That is the path to seeing clearly. That is the path to the lighter spirit and the nature of transformation.

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