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Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars

& Seekers

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.

十 二

Line 1  五色使人目盲 

Line 2  馳騁田獵使人心發狂

Line 3  難得之貨使人之行方

Line 4  五味使人之口爽



Line 5  五音使人之耳聾

Line 6  有之以為利无之以為用

Line 7  故去彼耳此


Discovering our



     We experience the world through our senses. They tell us what is “out there” all around us: House. Car. Desk. The Kentucky landscape. Mom. Sister Sue. Boss.


     It is through our minds that we may experience ourselves, our feelings, emotions and passions: “I’m happy.” "I’m sad.” “I’m nervous.” “I’m rich.” “I hurt myself.”


     When we mentally "reflect"  upon ourselves in this way, it is not a direct experience of ourselves any more than our reflection in a mirror is a direct experience of bodies. Both are second hand. They are, after all, just "reflections" of something.

     So, while we may "think" about ourselves, we may not realized that in doing so, we have turned ourselves into an object. "I am thinking about me." We may even go to a psychiatrist because my “me” wants to feel better about itself. It is as if somehow there are two of us.  Lao Tzu might ask, "Which you brought the other one to the psychiatrist?"


     In this lesson Lao Tzu is concerned with one point: That while I can experience what is around me, I cannot experience myself through my senses or my mind.  It requires something else, a kind of direct awareness rather than a sensory or mental experience.

     For an analogy, consider our fingertip. It can touch all the object in the room, but it cannot touch itself. In the same way, our minds can think about many things, objects. We can even use our mind to think about our mind. But it is always “about.”  Our mind cannot directly experience itself.

     This may appear to be some sort of intellectual game. But it is a most practical thing to understand: Whenever I think about "me," it is as if I'm standing apart from myself looking at myself from the outside—because that is precisely what I am doing.

     So when I study myself or evaluate myself, it is always a kind of second-hand “me” that I come to know.  And, the knowledge that I have about this "me" may be as erroneous as the knowledge that others have about "me." 


     This "me" is not my original self at all. It is a stand-in-self that resides in my head.

    Lao Tzu might ask: Who or what is the self which has all these  thoughts about my “me”? Who is thinking about whom?


     The answer is a discovery of our first-hand or original self.  This is what Lao Tzu calls,  自zì 然rán, or self-so-ness. Like 无wú 為wéi, "not doing," self-so-ness is the topic of nearly every lesson, whether it is mentioned in that lesson or not.


Click on each line number

 for Chinese-English interlinear

& commentary



Five colors can make

the eye go blind.


A galloping hunt can

make the heart/mind go mad.


Coveting rare goods can

make for inner unrest.


Five flavors can

overwhelm one's taste.


Five tones can

deafen the ear.


That is why the sage

is concerned with the belly,

and not the eye.


Accordingly, the sage

lets go of the one,
and hears the other

​​​​​​​​​​. . . . . . .





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