Choosing to Differ

“Get rid of learning and problems will vanish
yes and no
aren’t so far apart
lovely and ugly
aren’t so unalike
what others fear
we can’t help fear too
before the moon begins to wane
everyone is overjoyed
as if they were at the great Sacrifice
or climbing a tower in spring
I sit here and make no sign
like an infant that doesn’t smile
lost with no one to turn to
while others enjoy more
I alone seem deficient
with a mind like that of a fool
I’m so simple
others look bright
I alone seem dim
others are certain
I alone am confused
ebbing like the ocean
waxing without cease
everyone has a goal
I alone am dumb and backward
for I alone choose to differ
preferring still my mother’s tit”

(Taoteching, verse 20, translation by Red Pine)

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “When we give up the study of phenomena and understand the principle of noninterference, troubles come to an end and distress disappears.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “What passes for learning in the world never ends. For every truth found, two are lost. And while what we find brings joy, losses bring sorrow – sorrow that never ends.”

CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Wei [yes] indicates agreement and k’o [no] disdain.

SUNG CH’ANG-HSING says, “Even though ‘yes’ and ‘no’ come from the same source, namely the mouth, ‘yes’ is the root of beauty, and ‘no’ is the root of ugliness. Before they appear, there is nothing beautiful or ugly and nothing to fear. But once they appear, if we don’t fear one or ther other, disaster and harm are unavoidable.”

LI HSI-CHAI says, “What others love, the sage also loves. What others fear, the sage fears, too. But where the sage differs is that while others don’t see anything outside their own minds, the mind of the sage wanders in the Tao.”

WANG P’ANG says, “Everything changes into its opposite. Beginning follows end without cease. But people think everything is either beautiful or ugly. How absurd! Only the sage knows that the ten thousand ages are the same, that nothing is gained or lost.”

SU CH’E says, “People all drown in what they love: the beauty of the Great Sacrifice, the happiness of climbing to a scenic viewpoint in spring. Only the sage sees into their illusory nature and remains unmoved. People chase things and forget about the Tao, while the sage clings to the Tao and ignores everything else, just as an infant only nurses at it mother’s breast.”

TS’AO TAO-CH’UNG says, “People all see external things, while sages alone nourish themselves on internal breath. Breath is the mother, and spirit is the child. The harmony of mother and child is the key to nourishing life.”

And, RED PINE adds, “Another verse in which Lao-tzu chooses the crescent moon, while others choose the full moon. In ancient China, emperors marked the return of swallows to their capitals in spring with the Great Sacrifice to the Supreme Intermediary, while people of all ranks climbed towers or hiked into the hills to view the countryside in bloom and to celebrate the first full moon.”

Yesterday, I promised we were going to delve deeper. In today’s verse, Lao-tzu talks about being different, of the need to be different, from everyone else.

It begins with getting rid of distinctions, between yes and no, between lovely and ugly. These distinctions are something we have learned. Newborns at their mothers’ breasts don’t have any knowledge of them. And, all of our problems, says Lao-tzu, can be traced back to this learning. We need some serious unlearning. Yes and no aren’t nearly as far apart as we imagine them to be. Lovely and ugly aren’t so unalike.

Sages have the same fears we all have. What makes them different is their disaffection, their detachment.

Everyone is so easily moved. Their emotions change suddenly and erratically. Vacillating between manic and depression. Meanwhile Lao-tzu sits there making no sign, like an infant before it can smile. While everyone wants more, Lao-tzu is content with less. He seems deficient, simple, dim, like a fool; while others appear bright, brilliant, clever. Everyone is certain. Lao-tzu, alone seems confused. Everyone has a goal, Lao-tzu alone seems dumb and backward.

Everyone else seeks external things, Lao-tzu encourages us to stop looking outside of ourselves. To instead look within, to go back to our mother’s tit.

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