Daodejing 20


Sincerity’s “yes” and
Flattery’s “yes”:
How much difference
Is there between them?

Good and evil, how
much difference is
there between them?

What people fear, they
cannot not-fear. [1]

So vast; how never endless it is!

People who are busy
and merry seem to enjoy
magnificent feasts.
Or as well, ascend
to a terrace for
a lovely spring scene.

Alone am I
indifferent to
fame and to wealth.

Showing no sign,
[dull like] a baby
that has not yet smiled.
Weary, as without a dwelling for my return.

People all have more than enough
Yet alone am I lacking.
What a heart of a
fool have I!

[Dull like] vulgar
people are glorious.
Yet alone am I muddleheaded.
Vulgar people can
be clever and harsh.
Yet alone am I simple and honest.

[Quiet and calm as the ocean
yet the winds above never stop.]

People all have goals
Yet alone, am I
ignorant and clumsy.
Alone am I different
from others, valuing
the Grain Mother. [2]

*Translation by LU Wenlong & Keith Wayne Brown, ©2013.

[1] Laozi in this poem highlights distinctions that are not necessarily the case. Can we really tell the agreement of a sincere friend so easily from the acquisition of a flattering acquaintance? Good and evil may also have more difficulty to tell them apart. We see here again the use of the double negative in Chinese to drive home an important point. Dread, anxiety, fear: all come from the uncertainty of what will happen. We do not need to adopt the fears of others, but this is what we will do when we let apparent distinctions guide us.

[2] Here, Laozi alludes to #6. The Grain Mother or Goddess recalls constant birth and death of that which nourishes us. This also implies the mother who bears the child and then, for a season, gives breast milk. All of this comes in the cycle of generation/degeneration.


    1. Thank you so much. Almost every poem becomes my favorite for a few days after we translate. I guess that keeps them flowing in my mind. This had a sad character to it for the first two days. Now, rereading after your comment, I see how the almost self-deprecating consideration helped my mind stay focused this week during a few harsh encounters with acquaintances. “The highest goes unseen” indeed.

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