This blog is an interpretation of the Tao te Ching "Tao Virtue Book" which is attributed to Laozi "Lao Tze" a Chinese philosopher who lived circa 600 b.c.

Please remember always that this is the description of the Tao and not the experience of the living Tao. Hopefully, this blog will not serve as analysis or commentary but as a window into the Tao. You are encouraged to disagree with this interpretation, involve yourself in self-study, and ultimately leave all concepts behind and so experience the living Tao.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Understanding the Tao te Ching Chapter 20: Accepting Life

We will use Legge's translation for this chapter:


When we renounce learning we have no troubles. The (ready) 'yes,' and (flattering) 'yea;'-- Small is the difference they display.  But mark their issues, good and ill;  --What space the gulf between shall fill?

What all men fear is indeed to be feared; but how wide and without end is the range of questions (asking to be discussed)!

The multitude of men look satisfied and pleased; as if enjoying a full banquet, as if mounted on a tower in spring. I alone seem listless and still, my desires having as yet given no indication of their presence. I am like an infant which has not yet smiled. I look dejected and forlorn, as if I had no home to go to. The multitude of men all have enough and to spare. I alone seem to have lost everything. My mind is that of a stupid man; I am in a state of chaos.

Ordinary men look bright and intelligent, while I alone seem to be benighted. They look full of discrimination, while I alone am dull and confused. I seem to be carried about as on the sea, drifting as if I had nowhere to rest. All men have their spheres of action, while I alone seem dull and incapable, like a rude borderer. (Thus) I alone am different from other men, but I value the nursing-mother (the Dao).

Tao te Ching Chapter 20


This is perhaps the most difficult to understand passage in the Tao te Ching.  The writing is so inconsistent with the writing in other parts of the book that many people have used this passage as the basis for arguing that more than one author wrote the Tao te Ching.  

Goddard clearly did not appreciate it's value.  Beginning with the third stanza, he stopped translating, writing this instead.  "

"(The balance of this sonnet is devoted to showing the difference between the careless state of the common people and his own vision of the Tao. It is one of the most pathetic expressions of human loneliness, from lack of appreciation, ever written. It is omitted here that it might serve for the closing sonnet and valedictory.)"

But is this chapter a "pathetic expression of human loneliness?'"   Regardless of whether or not this chapter was written by the same author, comparing it to earlier messages in the book, we may gain some insight into the author's intent.

Earlier the author has stated that the solution to peace and happiness is not to try to solve the problem of life but to accept life as it is.  In that context, perhaps the "learning" the author wants to avoid is the desire to "sort out" or "overcome" life.  Then the "yes" that is ready becomes the will to overcome and the "yea" that is flattering becomes kind hearted acceptance.  

There is an indication that this is the author's intent in the second stanza where he agrees that the things men fear are real and are dangerous but points out that there is no end to these troubles.

So, if you gave up trying to overcome life and simply said "yea" to it, how would you look to other people.  This is the bulk of the third and fourth stanza.

The chapter ends with a note that the author does not suffer as his imagined observers think he does because he is at one with the "nursing mother" or yin power of Tao.  Some authors have translated this line as receiving milk from the mother Tao.  Or put another way, the author does not participate in the toils of other men and so appears stupid to them but because he is in touch with the Tao, he still receives what he needs.

Thanks For Making This Possible! Kindly Bookmark and Share it.

Technorati Digg This Stumble Stumble Facebook Twitter

No comments:

Post a Comment