Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Dao De Jing: Chapter 20

The Dao De Jing is not only one of the world's classics, it is one of the foundational texts of philosophical Daoism. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to an online version of this timeless work.

20. Wandering

What is the difference between assent and denial?

What is the difference between beautiful and ugly?

What is the difference between fearsome and afraid?

The people are merry as if at a magnificent party

Or playing in the park at springtime,

But I am tranquil and wandering,

Like a newborn before it learns to smile,

Alone, with no true home.

The people have enough and to spare,

Where I have nothing,

And my heart is foolish,

Muddled and cloudy.

The people are bright and certain,

Where I am dim and confused;

The people are clever and wise,

Where I am dull and ignorant;

Aimless as a wave drifting over the sea,

Attached to nothing.

The people are busy with purpose,

Where I am impractical and rough;

I do not share the peoples' cares

But I am fed at nature's breast.


ms_lili said...

one of the reasons why it's a good thing there are a million different renderings of chapters from the ddj is that you can find one that suits your mood at the moment. the mother gaia, nurturing slant this rendering has is good. i've read others that have the writer feeling as if they are an outcast while everyone else is in the groove.

Rick Matz said...

On the other hand, having a billion different interpretations which cancel each other out, renders the original meaningless.

I am looking foward to the day when I can read the DDJ in Japanese, which will be as close as I can practically get to the original text. Who knows? Maybe someday I'll learn to read Chinese as well.

ms_lili said...

Here is Ellen Chen's version:

1. Eliminate (chueh) learning so as to have no worries.
Yes and no, how far apart are they?
Good and evil, how far apart are they?

2. What the sages (jen) fear,
I must not fear.
I am the wilderness (huang) before the dawn (wei yang).

3. The multitude (chung jen) are busy and active,
Like partaking of a sacrificial feast,
Like ascending the platform in spring;
I alone (tu) am bland (p'o),
As if I have not yet emerged (chao) into form.
Like an infant who has not yet smiled (hai),
Lost, like one who has nowhere to return (wu so kuei).

4. The multitudes (chung jen) all have too much (yu yu);
I alone (tu) am deficient (i).
My mind (hsin) is that of a fool (yu),

5. Worldly people (su jen) are luminous (chao);
I alone (tu) am dark (hun).
Worldly people are clear-sighted (ch'a);
I alone (tu) am dull (men),
I am calm like the sea,
Like the high winds I never stop (chih).

6. The multitudes (chung jen) all have their use (i);
I alone (tu) am untamable like lowly material.
I alone (tu) am different from others.
For I treasure feeding on the Mother (mu).

Here is Ms. Chen's sagely general comment:

Chapter 20 describes the Taoist as self-effacing and self-regenerating in imitation of the dynamic non-being of Tao. This chapter is a mystic's self-portrayal. Amidst the hustle and bustle of the crowd glorying in the life of consciousness cut off from the unconscious, the Taoist mystic abides by the root of all beings. The six sections are variations on the same theme; in each the mystic contrasts those who dwell in the realm of distinction to his own psychological oneness with the Mother.

--from _The Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary_ by Ellen M Chen

ms_lili said...

In regards to your comment about too many interpretations means no interpretation, I know that when the scholars discuss things, they take great pains to be sure the words/ideograms are what were found on the original documents and try to interpret them in a historical context.

I'd love to learn to read (and write and speak) Chinese.

Rick Matz said...

Learning to speak Chinese would be tough, not "growing up" with the tones. Reading and writing, however, is another story. There is a LOT of reference material at

Take a look. It would be a worthwhile endeavour.

Rick Matz said...

... let me also clarify. I'm not against a lot of interpretations of the original text by people who can read it and have some background in the history, the subject matter, et al. I see the bookstores flooded with interpretations based on ... interpretations. The further you get away from the original text, the more it's the "interpreter's" opinions and not the orignal writer's.

ms_lili said...

Absolutely agree. The worst versions are those with a hidden agenda! Sadly, most of the chain stores around here carry only the sucky versions. When I first got interested in taoism about 10 years ago, there was a wide range of books on the subject at the local bookstores, with many honorable scholars. It's been turned into a fad, which is damned sad. Hopefully the person who is motivated can learn to look for the good stuff and not accept the bookstore fare as the only stuff available on it.

Rick Matz said...

These comments are turning into quite a thread. Once upon a time, I worked in a retail store that sold, among other things, collectibles. I noticed a few things about collectors. Beginning collectors bought a lot of chearp stuff. They wanted a collection more than anything else. As their tastes became refined, they'd replace quantity with quality. A very good collector might only have a few excellent pieces. It's sort of like that with the DDJ. At one time, I must have had over a dozen different editions. I got rid of most of them.

ms_lili said...

Which ones do you have left?

I still have all of mine, except for a few I gave away. There are a few that I look to when I want to look at the ddj.