On the Dual Meaning of Existence: A Meditation of the Tao

Written and Photographed by Federico Mata

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”
― Joseph Campbell

With those words, Joseph Campbell has it marked that you, the individual, as the ultimate meaning. As a seeker and holder of your destiny and knowledge, man holds it all in his hands. But man is never only one thing, he is, as the world around him, a great many things. To his daily routines and contradictions, to his thoughts, the dualistic nature, and that beyond it, man is ever ingrained to the mysteries of daily life. The question as to what man is, remains as elusive as ever. With the breakthroughs in science, we are closer to what man is in the biological sense, the engine that runs life is slowly being grasped. Yet we still don’t know what we truly are, as far that of being, for the Human part in Human Being is at first a biological one, followed by that of Being, which is purely existential in nature. Having the biological and existential apparatus in our logic and reasoning, makes for the classical philosophical problem of duality, that of mind and spirit, as either separate or working in unison, or perhaps something else entirely. Without getting too complex in the history of duality (volumes have been written), it is with a modern context that the problem of duality, or perhaps a great many things, is that of man himself. To go back to the creator, that is to say man, and back to the very  essence to what man is, must come from the external influences of things that inhabit the universe, and correlate it to that what man can fathom of it to his psyche.

Presented by the female form, what does duality give humanity to make of itself?

Dualistic principles asks if the mind-body problem is different or the same, or something else entirely. But keeping it simple, let us traverse the landscape of the mind into the possibilities of the essences of humanity to what we discern as reality versus what we would like to see in ourselves, or the ideal state of self. In this propensity, the duality of idealism and reality intertwine to one facet of man that is in constant struggle to make sense of what he is. We are seeking meaning, and what we have to go through as we go in life is a constant flux of contradictions, unclear direction, vague descriptions, and mediocre aspirations of Self that arise from this search. It is too easy to get caught up in a state of weariness or struggle when the task of finding what you are is in play, and nothing is more difficult as to go on this quest with empty hands. The role of duality here is to make sense to the deciding factors which make a Self, whether they are external or internal propensities, both play a very large part into becoming what we are.

In the Eastern traditions, the role of The Tao, or the way, is often used to describe the indescribable, yet the mystery lies that nothing really can be described to its fullest sense. One can come close with syntax, say that of scientific or poetic prose, but remain incomplete as the forefront of knowledge. Knowing this, the duality of meaning is more confounding. Often represented with the black and white fish symbol, with a white and black dot in each side, the dualistic principles are both and the same; with each side representing its equal opposite. This is famously known as Yin/Yang, that of polarity of Self, which is crucial to understanding the Tao. Just like in the planetary forces, each individual carries within himself a polar opposite, each with its symbolic weather patterns and seasons.

What do the dual aspects of consciousness have to tell each other?

Lao Tzu, in his Tao Te Ching, describes the polarity the following way:

Polarity is the movement of the Tao. Receptivity is the way it is used.

The world and All Things were produced from its existence.

Its existence was produced from non-existence.

In this parable, Lao Tzu describe the polarity as a form of non-existence, taking the dual aspect out and into non-being. But what does this mean? How is non-existence able to come into existence? And how does this correlate into eventual existence into twoness? This brings in the concept of the Absolute, the idea of all things being dependent on nothing but its own creator. The center of Kosmos (The All), that which is conceived by mind to be itself, is the creation manifesting into the Tao (The Way), which is the law of the universe, and thus man, into being. From the non-being comes All, and the Absolute, so Nothingness is crucial to the real meaning of existence. All this has been seen as contradictions, and nonsensical, but Lao Tzu knew that life was one great contradiction, and following the Tao and its dual nature is crucial to understanding life in its most meaningful way, which is the way of nature, contradictions and all. This is also why the Tao is difficult to grasp, even in the simplistic prose of Lao Tzu, as those who claim to understand the Tao are usually said that they don’t understand it. So what’s the point? Man needs to search for his own meaning, and the universe offers us set rules and guidelines on how to achieve the highest reward of creation, and the Tao is a snippet into the immense laws that nature offers. Lao Tzu adds in Verse 2:

As soon as beauty is known by the world as beautiful, it becomes ugly.
As soon as virtue is being known as something good, it becomes evil.
Therefore being and non-being give birth to each other.
Difficult and easy accomplish each other.
Long and short form each other.
High and low distinguish each other.
Sound and tone harmonize each other
Before and after follow each other as a sequence.
Realizing this, the saint performs effortlessly according to the natural Way without personal
desire, and practices the wordless teaching thru one’s deeds.
The saint inspires the vitality of all lives, without holding back.
He nurtures all beings with no wish to take possession of.
He devotes all his energy but has no intention to hold on to the merit.
When success is achieved, he seeks no recognition.
Because he does not claim for the credit, hence shall not lose it.
Through being and non-being, the path of the true human is born, and man achieves his greatest accomplishment, which is to be in tune to himself and the universe. The straight path which Lao Tzu speaks of is the core elements to the universal powers in all of creation, and to tap into just a very small fragment of it is to be in tune with the Tao.
How many paths are there to follow in Tao?

The conduct of life according to the Tao is to be in harmony with all things, which is a task that all of creation must face in order to live a fulfilling existence. Both good and bad are to be taken as one and the same; it is to be understood to be the reciprocal of each one.

As the Tao unveils its mysteries…
…Both light and dark elements…
…Create the wholeness of the Absolute.

The Tao is often seen as a mystic poem, full of similes on ruling a great nation and ruling oneself. It is said also by Lao Tzu that the Tao is unattainable, it could only be seen as an ever emergent reality of existence. He adds on verse 14:

We look at it, and we do not see it, and we name it ‘the
Equable.’ We listen to it, and we do not hear it, and we name it ‘the
Inaudible.’ We try to grasp it, and do not get hold of it, and we
name it ‘the Subtle.’ With these three qualities, it cannot be made
the subject of description; and hence we blend them together and
obtain The One.

Its upper part is not bright, and its lower part is not obscure.
Ceaseless in its action, it yet cannot be named, and then it again
returns and becomes nothing. This is called the Form of the Formless,
and the Semblance of the Invisible; this is called the Fleeting and

We meet it and do not see its Front; we follow it, and do not see
its Back. When we can lay hold of the Tao of old to direct the things
of the present day, and are able to know it as it was of old in the
beginning, this is called (unwinding) the clue of Tao.

Following more into these teachings, another important element springs forth, the Wu-Wei, which literally means non-doing. As mentioned above, on verse 2, the act of doing without doing is central to the way of the Tao. It teaches that doing an act authentic to itself is the action, and letting the action take its natural course without interference is the end result. Nature doesn’t rush anything, yet everything is complete. The discipline achieved with this teaching allows for man to use his actions in the most truthful way to whatever it is that he is doing, allowing no interference with ego, competitiveness, pettiness, etc. In accord with this, the Wu-Wei achieves another aspect of the laws of the universe, as a natural balance is attuned to the existence of being, authentic to itself. Yet the Wu-Wei is also action. Merely thinking the problem is no way of dealing with the problem, a course of action in accordance with the way of nature is necessary to achieve the highest aspect of the Tao and Wu-Wei, which is to take the temporality of now to the form of ever increasing reality. In other words, only now is the time for Wu-Wei and everything else that constitutes being.

Do actions authentic to itself create a sense of meaning?

The Tao as meaning also is core to the teaching, as all the guidelines given are meant to have a life dedicated to the overall creation of an authentic self, being beyond temporality, secular in its existence. A fulfilling life is one in tune with the Tao, as said in verse 7:

Heaven is long-enduring and earth continues long. The reason
why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue thus long is
because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are
able to continue and endure.

Therefore the sage puts his own person last, and yet it is found in
the foremost place; he treats his person as if it were foreign to him,
and yet that person is preserved. Is it not because he has no
personal and private ends, that therefore such ends are realised?

Very similar to the Buddhist teachings, the sage (a true self) is never to rush his meaning, that is to say, be in a steadfast journey to reach a stage of guru, but is only to live for the sake of others, that he is able to be the most in line with his being. He does not compete with himself, as the Tao makes all things into balance — yet the answer to anything is always you. How is one to use the Tao? How does this equate to a more meaningful way of being? The Tao understands that nature is many things, more than dualism or an absolute, yet it can be simplified by adding the teachings in a prose that can be applied in the most basic laws of nature, which is to live in the accordance of the way. If the answer is vague, it means you are on the right path.

The meaning of the Tao allows to understand and bypass the dualism found in our existence.


Tao Source: Sacred Texts

Models: Elisa Noemí @lapaintedlady and Mariana Montes @marian_montesval

Makeup by: Caroline Abdel-Nour @makeupbycarolinea