Dao is not only the universe of human concerns – particular entities we move into the foreground (positive space) – but also the background cosmos (negative space). Laozi expresses the mystery of the relationship of the emergent positive and the primordial negative. One is reminded of matter and antimatter or perhaps physical entities versus space, even dark matter and dark energy. Laozi sees beyond the veil of prescientific conceptions of the cosmos into the very structure of the universe. But he also sees the existentialist reality; dao is wu or non-being. “All things in the world come from being. And being comes from non-being.” (40) And “Heaven and Earth are heartless, treating creatures like straw dogs.”
Each universal opposite is dependent on the other. Our assigning value of only one is arbitrary and distances us from the truth of reality. By attending to the background we are freed to “recover a spontaneous engagement with the entire matrix” thus recognizing ourselves as participants in the “vast array of processes” and our achievements as “consequences of the confluence of a vast causal network of which we are just one part.
The second half of the Daodejing is concerned with de, which is usually translated virtue but alternatively as integrity, purity, excellence, or innate human strength. We are told that following dao brings us freedom, serenity, and longevity. Laozi emphasizes the potency of inaction and non-intervention, and the power of wu-wei meaning effortlessness action and virtuosity. Wu-wei then is a paradoxical characteristic – a paring down of oneself to the level of nature rather than a building up of one’s skills. By living in unity with Nature, maintaining humility, shunning ambition, embracing material simplicity, we come to the tranquility of the sage.
page 7 The Way of Lao Tzu)