How do You Define Beauty?

When people see some things as beautiful

then other things become ugly

Verse 2 from the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu

This line, to me, is again asking us to look at how and why we define things. In this world we tend to see things in opposites: good or bad, long or short, right or wrong, black or white. It then becomes an either/or world. If one thing is not that, then it is the other.Yet there are endless choices and variations between the opposite ends of the spectrum. My husband and I have an old argument. If you have to define the color teal as blue or green, which is it? I am an artist and my answer is always the same: it is neither (or it’s both) – it’s teal. He then tells me that I didn’t answer the question. His statement is absolutely correct and, to me, the question itself is wrong. It is not either/or.

By defining something as one thing, our tendency is then to to look for it’s opposite. If I am right in an argument, then the opposing view must be wrong. If change is a good thing, then its opposite, stability, must be wrong. Things are neatly categorized and summarized so they are easily recognized and understood by our brains. The Tao defies the nature of definition.

The Tao gives rise to the world of opposites and yet it is, itself, both and neither. It is both good and evil, black and white, right and wrong and the millions of places in between. Everything that happens and everything that is, is born of the Tao. All definitions come from it, and yet it is not any of those. In the end everything returns to it, again undefined and unnamed.

Become aware of how you define things. Then notice when you do define those things, how does that definition then define those things around it. A metaphor for this is when you place a paint chip of color on a wall of a certain color. That chip will look different when placed on a wall of another color. The color around it affects how you see that paint chip. (OK. Here’s a great website that has a perfect example of this.) So when you look at how you define yourself, see where that definition has created limitations or opposites in the world around you. Do not just accept the definition of beautiful and ugly, look past them, redefine them, move through them and see how they are both connected and a part of the Tao.


In love and light




  1. Not sure I’ve ever considered others’ definitions of beautiful or ugly as it’s very relative anyways. When you are talking about people, beautiful and ugly are loaded questions/observations almost endlessly debatable, facets defining other facets in an almost never-ending, possibly never-equalizing state.
    By and large I don’t think I, nor many others, define, strictly speaking. We may judge or categorize, but is there that much in life that entails an opposite as the only other possibility? A “neither” or “both” answer is still an answer, just maybe not one the asker is expecting or accepting. Their loss.

    • I think we do get caught up in that either / or mentality. I like that “neither” and “both” can still be an answer. Why does it have to be one or the other?

      • Well, I usually ask that myself, the either/or limitation. But I suppose you would have to come up with examples of questions to see where I might fall.
        It would be interesting, if we could get a broad enough spectrum of such questions, to see percentage-wise how much an individual, as well as the majority, ends up thinking in terms of black and white vs….Shades of Grey.

    • Well we are really programed to think in term of right or wrong, not Shades of Grey. All through school you either have the right answer or the the wrong answer. It isn’t until a student starts doing essay work that things can sort of fuzzy. Yet even there the correct spelling and grammar are expected. I remember in a college math course was the first time that the process was more inportant than the correct answer. You still got marked down if your answer was wrong it was just not the whole part of the grade.

      • Programmed in school, indeed. But that’s not us thinking, that’s someone else trying to think for us, so I don’t think it counts. Facts, on the other hand, are facts and it’s harder to argue right or wrong there. Same with math.
        Spelling is a whole different thing, however. The Dictionary is merely meant as a majority-rule report on spelling, meaning and pronunciation. It is not meant as an authority, although we usually accept it as such, easier than arguing, anyway.

  2. Once we see our life from a sacred perspective we move away from labeling this as good and that as bad. We begin to see the beauty in both the pain and the ecstasy, the darkness and the light. We see how everything is necessary, everything has its place, everything is sacred. We see how every thread of our experience creates the fabric that weaves together the majestic tapestry of our life.

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