Scripture on the Way and Virtue, Chapter 20

With Bai Yuchan’s Commentary

Translation Copyright ©2019 by Stuart Alve Olson

Extraordinary and Common
異 俗

Do away with studies and there will be no more worries (with no annoyances and no interference, how can there be [extraneous] thinking and how can there be any [intervening] anxiety?) How far apart are yes and no? (The One Qi1 is also gathered and dispersed). How far apart (transgressions are the cause for transformation) are good and evil? (One thought can lead to either movement or tranquility).

If I should fear (this means [it is better] to dwell on the Spirit) what other people fear (there is also a greatness in both life and death). Where, then, is the end of my fear? (The matter of life and death is great, but these [occur] quickly without the Constant [Tao]. I alone am in the wilderness waiting for the dawn (drifting about life and death, because of sound and sensation there is perishing and stagnation).

The people of the world are busy merry making (their Will should be to Embrace the True; do not follow too closely or easily to those things of emotional desire), as if partaking in a sacrificial feast (the Tao is without flavor). Like climbing a tower in the springtime (to follow unrestrained passions and sense-desires). I alone am unmoved and show no sentiment (when the Qi is sufficient it brings about the pliabilty just like an infant). As if the infant has not yet taken form or like an infant who does not yet know how to smile (naturally so deep, dark, and yet there is no conscious awareness of even silence, naturally silent and yet it is without any action). Appearing lost, like someone who has nowhere to return to (it is fitting one makes no movement forward and yet their mind is alive)

While the multitudes have all too much (unaware of gathering things in), I alone seem to have nothing (lest I would fear loss). My mind is like a fool’s (retiring at the border, called “the profound Tao”), appearing muddled and nebulous (contemplate emptiness as the Void).

Worldly people appear so bright (the ears and eyes rejoice as this is the inner true Tao, revealing the death of the self), I alone am dark (in the end this is called “doltish”). Worldly people appear so clear-sighted (using the mind without cease will only toil the Spirit), I alone am dull (having thoughts but then really having no thoughts). I am like a calm sea (the Tao is without limits and borders; the One Origin works quickly and obscurely), as aimless as the breeze, like a high wind I never cease (oneness of mind is naturally like the nothingness of the Ten Thousand Things. The origin works silently, resembling that which is never ceasing)

The multitudes all have a purpose (the mind of each person has its limits, the affairs of the myriad powers2 are inexhaustible), I alone appear untamable and of low material (the body is like a rotten tree and the mind is like dead ashes). I alone appear different from others (the Tao is not distant from people, people are distant from the Tao). For I alone treasure being nourished by the Mother (the Tao is just the One).


  1. 一氣, Yi Qi, literally means “the one breath or action.” But here the meaning is more directed at the idea of the One Energy (of the universe).
  2. 機, Ji, means both the moving power of the universe (Tao) and the changes and motions of the origin of all things.

The Meaning

This chapter is very much a self-portrayal of how a successful Taoist adept would view their self. Within all the worldly hussle and bussel, where people are separated from their unconscious mind, the Taoist adept here is in perfect harmony with both his/her conscious mind and unconscious mind. This chapter clearly shows the adept abiding within their own psychological oneness with the Mother (Tao). This is demonstrated right away when Lao Zi asks, “How far apart are yes and no?” and “How far apart are good and evil?” The dull (multitudes) see them as completely two different things, but the Taoist here sees them as one in the same, like a coin with two sides, which is to say the Taoist sees things from the perspective of both the conscious and unconscious simultaneously.

So Bai Yuchan titles this chapter as Extraordinary and Common because the multitudes embrace the common (or vulgar as the ideogram su [俗] implies) and accomplished adepts as extraordinary (異, yi) because, as indicated by the statements beginning with “I alone …”, they see themselves as being nourished by and abiding in the Tao.

Bai Yuchan’s Original Chinese Text

Taoist Scriptures

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Clarity and Tranquility Scripture
Heavenly Worthy’s Jade Pivot Treasury Scripture
Jade Emperor’s Mind Seal Scripture
Protection of Life Scripture
Yellow Emperor’s Yin Convergence Scripture
Jade Toad Immortal on the Tao De Jing
Secret of the Golden Flower
The Inner Teachings of Zhuang Zi
Yellow Court Scripture Lecture Series Preview

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