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 were 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 aimless as the wind.
I am different from ordinary people.
I drink from the Great Mother's breasts.
Elsewhere it is written that the reality of the Tao transcends the human power of reason and simply has to be grasped or apprehended intuitively: "It is beyond words, beyond all differences and distinction; it is the unchanging, permanent reality of constant change; it is the ground of being and non-being; it is akin to the Hindu concept of the Brahman" (See HERE). Hence, when we read a poem from the Tao Te Ching or any work of perennial philosophy or spirituality we must rely on our instincts, our intuition and our inner wisdom or heart to guide us.
The opening stanza repeats an old gem of wisdom, namely that too much thinking is very bad for us. With too much thinking we can create a problem that was not there in the first place. People who are stressed or under pressure and those who are depressed or suffer from some mental illness most times fail to go to sleep at night because their minds are so over-wrought that they simply cannot turn their thoughts off. Often people drink or take drugs to attempt to shut their over-wrought and troubled minds down. Beginners especially, but also improvers and skilled practitioners can and do experience difficulty in shutting out distracting thoughts. That's why the books and experts all recommend returning to concentrating on the breath or a simple mantra to dispel such distracting thoughts or at least to minimise them as far as possible.
Once again the writer of the Tao Te Ching proceeds by way of paradoxes and seeming contradictions and by equating opposites; by suggesting that there is no difference between a yes and a no. He even sees no difference between success and failure. This is all the stuff of koans; in the wisdom tradition of Zen, it is akin to asking the meditator to listen to the sound of one hand clapping. Somewhere in these paradoxes, in these enigmas and koans there lies a deep, deep wisdom that stretches beyond our ken. Yet, there is a truth within them that draws us ever onward in contemplation like a powerful hidden magnet.
Once again, here I would like to return to the wisdom of that wonderful American President Abraham Lincoln who endured much failure in his life as a prelude to his successes. He was able to see failure as that which helps us put things in perspective. He was granted a philosophical mind and a spiritual insight that helped him gain from such real failures, failures he could see contained within them the seeds of his later success. Moreover, I love the Irish wit and wisdom of one of our famous international novelists, the great James Joyce, that his intention in life was "to fail bettter."
The "I" and its voice in the poem are, of course, that of the Tao himself/herself/itself. The Great Mother, mentioned in the final stanza, is also the Tao. She(he/it) is "expressionless", the very countenance of a baby before it can smile, possessing nothing, with an empty mind, dark and mysterious, drifting with the ease of a wave and blowing as aimlessly as the wind. She/he/it is the quintessence of mystery itself. To reflect on this twentieth poem is to dive into the mystery of mysteries. Don't expect to be enlightened. Just ponder and wonder at the very darkness of the mystery.
Finally, I invite the reader to ponder the above poem contemplatively and let any line, phrase or word suggest itself to you as a mantra for a ten minute meditation.