Updated: Aug 26, 2022
Chapter Two of Daodejing deals with the rise of opposites.
Because everyone comes to know beauty as beauty, ugliness arises.
Because everyone knows virtue as virtue, lack of virtue arises.
Therefore, non-existence and existence mutually relate to life,
difficult and easy mutually relate to accomplishment,
long and short mutually relate to form,
above and below mutually relate to position,
tone and pitch mutually relate to harmony,
in front and behind mutually relate to following.
So it is that the sage accomplishes things without action,
teaches without words;
All things arise and he doesn't reject them;
He gives life but doesn't possess;
Acts but doesn't appropriate;
Succeeds but doesn't dwell on it.
This alone is why it doesn't depart.
There are many varied translations of this chapter, but the ones that seem to maintain the most consistency with other principles of Laozi and Zhuangzi point at the leveling of all things. What this means is not rejecting anything since everything is a relationship to something else. The sage rejects nothing since everything arises from Dao. In addition, everything is constantly in flux. There is nothing essential in the Universe. For humans, everything is defined in terms of subjective experience. What one person values, another detests. What one person finds beautiful, another finds ugly. If one dwells on a single success, this gets in the way of being present to the new moment that has arisen.
The sage is constantly making space for the birth of what is next. Since he never holds onto success, since he never takes possession of his accomplishments or deeds, there is continually space for more success and accomplishment. It is this chapter that describes the state of existence as one of constant change. We must let each moment die so that change can arise and we can adapt to it. When we are young, we might see older people as unattractive and not knowing anything. When we are older, we might see younger people as unattractive in a different way and lacking understanding.
Dao is the source of all things and so to separate things into categories is only an illusion. This is how the sage accomplishes without action. Dao accomplishes and we merely experience it. To claim credit is to separate ourselves from Dao. When we realize that we are just participants in a cosmic play, we can succeed in a non-traditional way, in a way that transcends cultural definitions. Most people are stuck in petty, small-minded ways of being when they see their insignificant human subjectivity as being true and accurate.