Daodejing Chapter 20: nourished by the mother

Daodejing Chapter 20: nourished by the mother

「絕學無憂,唯之與阿,相去幾何?善之與惡,相去若何?人之所畏,不可不畏。荒兮其未央哉!眾人熙熙,如享太牢,如春登臺。我獨泊兮其未兆,如嬰兒之未孩。儡儡兮若無所歸!眾人皆有餘,而我獨若遺。我愚人之心也哉,沌沌兮!俗人昭昭,我獨昏昏。俗人察察,我獨悶悶。澹兮其若海,飂兮若無止。眾人皆有以,而我獨頑且鄙。我獨異於人,而貴食母。
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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