Stop thinking, and end your problems.
What difference between yes and no?
What difference between success and failure?
Must you value what others value?
Avoid what others avoid?
Other people are excited,
as though they are at a parade.
I alone don’t care,
I alone am expressionless.
Like an infant before it can smile.
Other people have what they need.
I alone possess nothing.
I alone drift about,
like someone without a home.
I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty.
Other people are bright; I alone am dark.
Other people are sharp; I alone am dull.
Other people have a purpose; I alone don’t know.
I drift like a wave on the ocean.
I blow as aimlessly as the wind.
I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother’s breasts.
(Tao Te Ching, chapter 20, translation by Stephen Mitchell)
Yesterday, we were talking about things that we hold dear. Ideas, concepts, that Lao Tzu says we need to throw away. I went so far as to call them sacred cows. And, I want to make clear what I think Lao Tzu is trying to get across to us. What is it that he is wanting us to throw away? Perhaps it helps to realize what it is about any of these things that we are trying to hold on to and not wanting to let go of. And, Lao Tzu gives us a very good idea of just that in today’s chapter.
He begins by saying, “Stop thinking, and end your problems.” There it is, plain and simple. It isn’t so much holiness and wisdom, or morality and justice, or industry and profit, which need to be thrown away; as it is what we think those mean. All of our problems begin with the way we are thinking. Stop thinking, and you end your problems.
For the longest of times, when I got to today’s chapter, I always found myself treating it like it was somehow separate from all the other chapters. Almost like it didn’t belong. What is Lao Tzu doing here? Is he describing some crisis of faith, or a dark night of the soul? Is he suffering from a bout of depression?
How mistaken I was in my thinking. It is becoming much clearer to me now. What Lao Tzu is doing is continuing what he has been saying all along. Every one of these chapters is simply building on the last. He has identified the central problem. Yes, it is that we have forgotten the great Tao. Our body’s intelligence, our innate ability to connect intuitively with the Tao, is in decline; or worse, is virtually non-existent. It has to do with our minds, our cleverness and knowledge; and, it has to do with the withering of our hearts, through its obsessive desires.
That is what Lao Tzu is addressing today. It is time to take a step back. Maybe get alone with yourself. And do some serious soul searching. What difference is there really between yes and no? What difference does it make whether you are thought of as a success, or as a failure? Must you value what others value and avoid what others avoid? For Lao Tzu, the answer is, “How Ridiculous!”
That is the conclusion he is leading us to arrive at. He has already said it in so many ways. If we chase after money and security our hearts will never unclench. If we care about others approval, we will always be their prisoner. We need to be content to simply be ourselves. That means not comparing or competing. The respect we crave from others, begins with respecting ourselves.
Lao Tzu is letting us in on a little secret when he starts using that personal pronoun, I. We are measuring our own self worth by looking outwardly at others. Look at him compare and contrast: Other people are excited, as though they are at a parade. I alone don’ t care, I alone am expressionless. Notice the isolation that we bring on ourselves by comparing and contrasting ourselves with others. I am alone. Other people have what they need. I alone possess nothing. I alone drift about, like someone without a home. I am like an idiot, my mind is so empty. The isolation brings on a sense of misery. We are very much alone. And, we are become idiots.
Other people are bright and sharp and have a purpose. I alone am dark and dull and don’t know. The misery of our isolation is fully expressed as we feel ourselves drifting about like a wave on the ocean; and, blowing as aimlessly as the wind.
Things seem desperate. But, it is here, and only here, that we finally find who and what we really are. We have sunken as deeply as we can. We can go no further. And, Lao Tzu says, “Vive la difference.” Yes, I am different. I may never be like the others. I may never like what they like or succeed like they succeed. But, so what? I drink from the great Mother’s breasts.
I could leave it at that. Lao Tzu certainly did. But, I want to make sure that you understand the monumental shift that happened here. Lao Tzu has already told us that the idea that we are separate is an illusion. We are not separate. We are the whole. That is the eternal reality. In comparing and contrasting the I (which is separate) from all others, Lao Tzu is highlighting how alone, isolated, and separate we are feeling. We have each of us felt this. It is a very common experience. Interesting, because we think we are so very “different” from others. But, we have all felt the very same thing.
Yet, that is all an illusion. Yes, he celebrated our differences. Vive la difference. But he did not celebrate separateness. Instead, he expressly said how we are all connected to the one reality. And, that is the great Mother. She is our common Source. Drink from the great Mother’s breasts. After drifting about like a wave on the ocean, or blowing about as aimlessly as the wind, it is nice to return to the great Mother’s breasts. That is serenity.