Walking the Way

81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching

Verse 2
Point to beauty, then ugly must arise;
distinguishing the good, not-good comes into being.
So this makes that: if life, then death.
If long, then short;
difficult and simple produce each other;
high and low shape each other;
front and back fulfill each other;
first and last subsume each other.
Duets are counterpoints to harmonies.
True people teach without a word;
they are themselves, thus act without exerting effort.
Immersed in flow, no starting and no stopping;
no placing claims, no holding on;
no merit and no fault.

Your being is beautiful. This beauty does not rely on good looks: beauty rests in being “becoming” to yourself.
     Your beauty is unique but nothing special, since beauty is inherent in all existence. If you stand out, your beauty comes in standing out: if you blend in, your beauty comes in blending in. We get confused, though, when we set up relative standards of beauty. We sing “I am pretty” when we feel happy; when we feel unattractive we hope we’re ugly ducklings who might later transform into white-plumed Cygninae or perhaps we take secret pride in the role of a nonconforming black swan.
     If you identify with one particular characteristic, you constrict yourself and set the stage for nightmares of its opposite. Investment in appearing lovely invites you to dread losing your looks. If you seek beauty in the fashions of the times you will go in and out of style; if you make up your attractiveness it will wear off.
     Beauty is not a commodity; when it is turned into something manufactured, marketed to be bought and sold, it is no longer beauty. Beauty is not something that we own but something that we are: the converging of our pasts and our possibles, presently appearing in a transient form.
     All being is absolutely itself. Beauty and ugly are just labels, markers of the whims of personal preference; your true being cannot be captured in such relative concepts. Big and small, pretty and plain, are merely comparisons; when you shift your reference point, your standards shift as well. As Chuang Tzu says:

     From the point of view of differences, if we regard a thing as big because there is a certain bigness to it, then among all the ten thousand things there are none that are not big. If we regard a thing as small because there is a certain smallness to
it, then among the ten thousand things there are none that are not small.

     Discrimination looks for differences; it finds meaning in contrasts and value in evaluation. Being, though, need not justify itself with meaning. The beauty of being yourself is poetry not prose—the poet Archibald MacLeish advises us that “a poem should not mean, but be.” If you’re attached to being meaning-full then significance can separate you from connectedness.
     Beauty is being fully yourself, without being full of yourself. When you share generously of yourself, you are beautiful. When you know
the beauty of yourself as you, then you know the beauty of others as themselves. You allow others to discover themselves in and through you, making no claim on them to be a certain way to satisfy your self-interest. Instead, you discover yourself through the play of being. Self and nonself complete each other, and beauty shimmers.
One of my daughters told me she used to be self-conscious of her large nose. Now an adult, she realizes she is quite attractive and her nose contributes to her striking looks. Before she could realize this, though, she confessed her feelings to her boyfriend. From then on, he took care when he embraced her to always kiss her nose first.
     A short while ago they married: two noses, four lips, one love.

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