Styles of thinking and clothing have a lot in common. We are born with mind simple and body naked. We soon dress our body in clothes and our mind in thoughts. Wishing to return to our original self physically, we can simply go naked. Wishing to return to our original self spiritually — for lack of a better word — is another matter.
Chapter 49 hints, The sage has no mind of his own. He takes as his own the mind of the people. Chapter 16 shed light on how this can happen:
I do my utmost to attain emptiness; I hold firmly to stillness.
The myriad creatures all rise together, And I watch their return.
The teaming creatures, All return to their separate roots.
Returning to one’s roots is known as stillness.
This is what is meant by returning to one’s destiny.
Returning to one’s destiny is known as the constant.
The main glitch in returning to one’s roots lies in styles of thinking. I see two archetypical cognitive styles (A and B below) from which we ‘choose’, sometimes one, sometimes the other. Which is your most common choice in real life?
(A) Discerning differences. This tends to shore up one’s biases, which augments feeling tribal connection. This reinforces our sense of social fairness and our judgments. This leaves one feeling either pleased by the justice or annoyed by the injustice, depending on the circumstances.
(B) Discerning similarities (1). This tends to neutralize one’s biases, which augments chapter 49’s having no mind of your own. This neutralizes our sense of social fairness and our judgments. This leaves one feeling more serene by the ‘natural justice’ of it all regardless of circumstances. It also heightens our sense of ‘solitude’. As chapter 39 hints, Thus lords and princes refer to themselves as ‘solitary’, ‘desolate’, and ‘hapless’. This is taking the inferior as root, is it not?
Talk of shoring up or neutralizing one’s biases may be misleading. Perhaps knowledge is a better word for biases. After all, at some level knowledge and bias share common ground. Let’s peel another layer off the onion by clarifying the knowledge issue…
Not being omniscient, we can’t know anything absolutely. This means all knowledge is relative and essentially rests on shadowy, shaky ground. As chapter 21 notes, As a thing the way is shadowy, indistinct. We compensate for this dreadful muddledness by passionate faith in our beliefs. Thinking style (A) helps accomplish this by focusing much more on discerning differences than similarities.
Discernment of differences, differentiating ‘this’ from ‘that’, is the foundation upon which knowledge rests. Reducing the discernment of differences is one way to alleviate knowledge’s impact on perception. Thinking style (B) helps this by looking for as much similarity between apparent differences as possible. Then when chapter 10 asks, “When your discernment penetrates the four quarters are you capable of not knowing anything?” You can answer, “Yep! All I see is mysterious sameness” – #56.
It all comes down to a choice between relying on a point of view that magnifies differences, or one that shrinks differences. In light matters, thinking style (A) works well. It is fun and parallels chapter 1’s Allow yourself to have desires to observe its manifestation. However, in serious matters, I prefer style (B) which fosters serenity (2). It parallels chapter 1’s, Rid yourself of desire in order to observe its secrets.
What choice do we have in using one style over the other? Probably none, although an awareness of each style can help you deal with the consequences of each. In the end, isn’t that what really matters. It is not that one succeeds; after all, in the end we all fail, i.e., die. Chapter 33 hints at what matters,
He who knows himself has discernment.
He who knows contentment is rich;
He who perseveres is a man of purpose;
He who does not lose his station will endure;
He who lives out his days has had a long life
This is where styles (A) and (B) join forces, as both drive us to strive on in one way or another. Indeed, we can’t help but strive on diligently, naturally. We just think we ‘should’ strive harder! No wonder we have difficulty. However, the end of chapter 71 holds out hope, The sage meets with no difficulty. It is because he is alive to it that he meets with no difficulty.
(1) Style B parallels the correlations process. Using correlations to ponder life requires discerning similarities to the point of no return or as close to that as one can get. (See Tools of Taoist Thought: Correlations.)
(2) Everything has a price, even serenity. Style (B) diminishes the sense of tribal solidarity. There is no ‘us’ against ‘them’. Social connection becomes much more indistinct and shadowy. Your tribe is the universe. Chapter 20 speaks to this…
The multitude are joyous as if partaking of the ‘Tai Lao’ offering or going up to a terrace in spring.
I alone am inactive and reveal no signs,
Like a baby that has not yet learned to smile,
Listless as though with no home to go back to.
The multitude all have more than enough;
I alone seem to be in want.
My mind is that of a fool – how blank!
Vulgar people are clear; I alone am drowsy.
Vulgar people are alert; I alone am muddled.
Calm like the sea; Like a high wind that never ceases.
The multitude all have a purpose; I alone am foolish and uncouth.
I alone am different from others and value being fed by the mother.