Tao-te ching Comments

Features of Master


    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 Tao). (Ch. 20, Legge version.)


A difficult chapter. The first paragraph doesn't fit with the rest. It is a criticism of Confucian learning and/or the general polemics interest of other schools of thought.(*)

The paragraph beginning with "The multitude of men…" may be considered a list of features ascribed to a Taoist Master. Me, I am like a child, confused and lost, said Lao-tzu. This is the image one perceives when seeing a Master - he doesn't seem to have what the common people have: certainty, goods, intelligence, brightness and so forth. And this is because the Taoist cherishes the nursing-mother, that is, the Tao, and not the habits of common people.

I wrote a lot about the meaning of these ideas in my Level 1 of the Taoism initiation course as well as in the Level 3, dealing with the Taoist meditation methods.

The child symbolism is a core concept of Taoism as well as a Christian's teachings on Salvation.

As such, the striking similar symbolism may be found in the New Testament parable about the newborn child who is the model of the one who enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

(*)There are commentators who explain this paragraph differently as pointing to the realization of the essence of the mind which is not similar with learning and common knowledge. The essence of mind is the core interest of Mahayana Buddhism practices and Tibetan Buddhism.

Talking about learning in general, Master Lu said: The learning student learns only what is subject of learning and nothing more. He'll never find who is learning, that is the target of the Taoist exploration of the mind.

Commentary by Jhian



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