dao de jing chapter 2 english



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.
Therefore the Master acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.

This chapter introduces the concept of duality and how it shapes our perception of the world. The ideas of beauty and ugliness, good and bad, are not absolute but are created in relation to one another. The existence of one concept implies the existence of its opposite, and they are interdependent.

Laozi emphasises the interdependent nature of opposites by stating that having and not having, difficult and easy, long and short, high and low, voice and sound, and front and back all rely on each other for their meaning. Each concept finds its definition and significance through its relation to its opposite.

The chapter continues by introducing the concept of Wu Wei, or non-action. Laozi describes the sage as one who practices non-action and no-talking. This does not imply complete inactivity, but rather acting in accordance with the natural flow of things without force or unnecessary effort. The sage does not seek personal recognition or take credit for their actions. They work effortlessly, allowing their deeds to speak for themselves.

Laozi concludes the chapter by highlighting the everlasting nature of the sage’s actions. They work without attachment or ego, and their impact endures beyond their physical presence. By aligning with the principles of non-action and recognising the interconnectedness of opposites, the sage embodies the essence of the eternal Dao.

As I contemplate the wisdom of Chapter 2, I am struck by its relevance in the midst of our fast-paced, hyperconnected world. We are often consumed by the need to control and manipulate our surroundings, striving relentlessly to achieve our desires. Yet, this chapter offers a different perspective—a reminder that true power lies in surrendering, in letting go of our attachments and expectations, and embracing the natural rhythms of life.

This chapter also reminds me of the importance of inner cultivation and self-awareness. To truly align with the Dao, I must first understand and embrace the duality within myself. By accepting my flaws and embracing my strengths, I can achieve a sense of wholeness and harmony. It is through this process of self-discovery that I can tap into my authentic self and live in alignment with the natural order of the universe.

In embracing the principles of Chapter 2, I find solace in the idea that I am not separate from the world around me. I am interconnected with all beings, and my actions have a ripple effect in the grand tapestry of existence. By cultivating a deep awareness of this interconnectedness, I am inspired to act with compassion and empathy, recognising that what I do to others, I ultimately do to myself.