“Sages have no mind of their own
their mind is the mind of the people
to the good they are good
to the bad they are good
until they become good
to the true they are true
to the false they are true
until they become true
in the world sages are withdrawn
with the world they merge their mind
people open their ears and eyes
sages cover theirs up”
(Taoteching, verse 49, translation by Red Pine)
SU CH’E says, “Emptiness has no form. It takes on the form of the ten thousand things. If emptiness had its own form it could not form anything else. Thus, sages have no mind of their own. They take on the minds of the people and treat everyone the same.”
HUI-TSUNG says, “Because it is empty, the mind of a sage can receive. Because it is still, it can respond.”
YEN TSUN says, “A mindless mind is the chief of all minds. Sages, therefore, have no mind of their own but embrace the minds of the people. Free of love and hate, they are not the enemy of evil or the friend of the good. They are not the protector of truth or the adversary of falsehood. They support like the earth and cover like the sky. They illuminate like the sun and transform like the spirit.”
WANG P’ANG says, “Good and bad are the result of delusions, and delusions are the result of self-centered minds. Those who open themselves up to the Great Way, although their eyes see good and bad, their minds do not distinguish any differences. They don’t treat the bad with goodness out of pity but because they don’t perceive any difference. Although the ten thousand things are different, their differences are equally real and equally false. To see the real in the false and the false in the real is how the wisdom of sages differs from that of others.”
CONFUCIUS says, “In their dealings with the world, great people are neither for nor against anyone. They follow whatever is right” (Lunyu:4.10).
WANG PI says, “The mind of sages has no point of view, and their thoughts have no direction.”
JEN FA-JUNG says, “Wherever sages go in the world, they act humble and withdrawn and blend in with others. They treat everyone, noble or commoner, rich or poor, with the same kindness and equality. Their mind merges with that of others. Ordinary people concentrate on what they hear and see and concern themselves with their own welfare. The sage’s mind is like that of a newborn baby, pure and impartial.”
HSUAN-TSUNG says, “Sages cover up the tracks of their mind by blending in with others.”
CH’ENG HSUAN-YING says, “Stop the eyes and the ears, and the others senses will follow.”
And RED PINE adds, “The Chinese word for mind, hsin, also means ‘thoughts,’ ‘goals,’ ‘intentions,’ or ‘will.’ Thus, Lao-tzu is not being philosophical here in saying ‘sages have no mind of their own,’ merely practical.”
“All things being equal.” That is a phrase I have heard quite a lot. And I can’t help thinking to myself, “Yes, but they aren’t, are they?” And that is a problem. All our models depend on all things being equal. But they aren’t, are they? Actually, that depends on your perspective. On what and where you are looking. And equality is something of a dirty word for me, anyway. Because equality is something we desire, wherever we perceive all things aren’t equal, there will be those who will try to force equality. Have I mentioned, previously, I don’t like the use of force? Yeah, kind of big on the non-aggression principle.
And another thing about equality, we are only allowed to discuss it along certain lines. It is okay, for instance, to say that equality of outcome isn’t something that is possible, even if it may be desirable. By the way, I am not conceding it should be desirable. Equality of opportunity, that is the only alternative to equality of outcome which is “allowed.” And just about everybody falls into line on this one. We all know, though we may not like it, that equality of outcome isn’t possible; so equality of opportunity becomes not just desirable, but possible, so we try to force that outcome. And I am made to feel like maybe I am alone (though I know I am not alone on this) in knowing equality of opportunity is just as undesirable and impossible as equality of outcome. And for the very same reasons. But what other equality are we really allowed to talk about?
Do-gooders want something good to do, and making all things equal is the good thing they want to do. Try to talk about an equality which comes naturally, which is natural, that doesn’t require us to do something to try to force it, and that would leave them with nothing to do. That doesn’t go over so well. They will immediately rebel and point out how things look from their perspective. Because from their perspective all things aren’t equal. And something needs to be done about it.
That is why I have come to loathe the word equality. Whenever someone brings it up I begin to cringe. I already know where this conversation is going. It always comes to the use of force.
Still, here I am talking equality today. And why? Because Lao-tzu brought it up. And thankfully, Lao-tzu’s equality is one that comes naturally, it is one that is not forced. This is actually an equality that doesn’t make me cringe.
Sages have no mind of their own. What Red Pine says in his commentary at the end is quite helpful, here. “The Chinese word for mind, hsin, also means ‘thoughts,’ ‘goals,’ ‘intentions,’ or ‘will.” Thus, Lao-tzu is not being philosophical here in saying ‘sages have no mind of their own,’ merely practical.”
Merely practical. Get ready, this is an equality we can actually practice. Sages have no thoughts, no goals, no intentions, no will of their own, their mind is the mind of the people.
Now what does he mean by that? Remember, it is a practice. They practice being good. Not just to the good, but to the bad as well; until they become good. And, they practice being true. Not just to the true, but the false as well; until they become true.
This is the practice of equality which comes naturally, because it is nature’s equality. Nature treats us all the same. And sages treat us all the same. There aren’t any favorites. No one is more equal than anyone else. This isn’t equality of outcome or opportunity. And it isn’t something which is forced.
But if you are going to practice this you need to lose everything that would otherwise prevent you from practicing it. Lao-tzu talked about losing, in yesterday’s verse. What have you got to lose? A mind of your own. Your own thoughts, your own goals, your own intentions, your own will. Having a mind of your own will keep you from your task. Having a mind of your own won’t allow you to be good to the bad, and true to the false. That mind of yours will have you playing favorites in no time. In other words, all things won’t be equal. And we will be right back in the same place we have always been.
So, how to do this? I knew you were going to ask that.
In the world, sages are withdrawn. No, that doesn’t mean we need to be hermits living alone on some mountaintop somewhere.
Being withdrawn simply means we don’t let external things distract us. Notice what Lao-tzu says about people opening their ears and eyes, while sages cover theirs up.
We are with the world, and it is with this world we merge our minds. This isn’t something like a Vulcan mind-meld. It is simpler than that. Withdrawn, we look inside ourselves, there, in our innermost being we find all of Heaven and Earth. That is where we merge our minds.
Red Pine introduces the following sage with today’s verse:
HUI-TSUNG (R. 1101-1125). Sung dynasty emperor and one of China’s greatest calligraphers and patrons of the arts. His commentary was finished in 1118, shortly before he was taken captive by nomad invaders. Yu-chieh tao-te-chen-ching.