Daodejing Chapter 20: nourished by the mother

Daodejing Chapter 20: nourished by the mother

Reject learning and your troubles end.
How much difference is there between yes and no?
How much difference is there between good and evil?
If you have to fear what other people fear,
Your fears will be endless!
Everyone is out having fun,
As if enjoying a holiday feast,
As if ascending a terrace in spring.
I alone am quiet and show no emotions;
Like a new-born baby who has not yet learned to smile;
Like someone who has no home to go to.
Everyone has plenty;
I alone have nothing.
I have the mind of a fool, understanding nothing.
Everyone sees things clearly;
I alone am confused.
Everyone is sharp;
I alone am dull,
Drifting like the ocean waves,
Aimless like the gusting wind.
Everyone has a purpose.
I alone am ignorant and uncouth.
I alone am different from the everyone else,
I prize being nourished by the mother.

For all his attempts to promote his teachings about the way to the ruling class of his day, Laozi never succeeded in persuading it to adopt them. One key reason for this was no doubt because of how he positioned himself as an outsider divorced from mainstream society.

Chapter 20 of the Daodejing perfectly encapsulates this positioning. Unlike the benighted masses who cheerfully get along with their lives, Laozi’s Daoist sage is “alone and quiet”, “show(s) no emotions,” and has and knows “nothing.” Indeed, whereas everyone else thinks that they “see things clearly” and that they are “sharp”, the sage is a “fool” who drifts like the ocean waves and is “aimless like the ocean waves”.

By fully embracing the teachings of the way, he has set himself apart from everyone else. No wonder so few are brave enough to follow him.

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