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Lao Tzu for Everyone


Students, Scholars,

& Seekers


Chinese-English Interlinear

Peter Gilboy, Ph. D.


A Note

regarding the characters

used in this translation.

Lesson 19

I am Different

​​​​​   xué

(子 child + 冖 under roof + 𦥑 hands clutching)

learn, study, imitate

. . . . . .

Person alonesplash.jpg
Line 1


Line 1

Give up learning,

and put an

end to your woes.


​​絕jué 學xué  无wú  憂yōu   

​​sever       learn    not have    sad/grief   

Cut off learning, and not have grief. 


​     ​  We know a lot of things.  We've learned them in school, from our families, and from society at large.  A lot of it we certain about, and, because we are certain, there is no need to challenge them.

     Lao Tzu's first statement, here, "Give up learning" is quite startling. But Lao Tzu could not be referring to 學xué* learning the alphabet, how fix dinner, or find our way to work. He must be referring to a different kind of learning.

      Learning is principally imitation, an acquiring of skills and knowledge from others. This is also true of how we view the world and interact with others. After all, what we know about the world we have 學xué learned from other or made assumptions based on our personal experiences.


     We've come to accept that this is "right" and that is "wrong." This is "good" and that is not. We've learned what is advantageous to us, disadvantageous, and we respond rather mechanically when opportunities arise.

   In this line Lao Tzu asks us to take a closer look at what we have learned to is so.  (See this lessons relationship to Lesson 2)




*The character 學xué is found only in two other lessons. In each case it refers to a "not learning" or an "unlearning," a twin of 无wú 為wéi "not doing."

Lesson 48: The person who 學xué learns accumulates daily. But the person who has heard the way, daily decreases.” ”為學者日益  聞 道 者 日 云 


Lesson 64: “Learn to not learn (or, “Learn to unlearn), and return to what all others have overlooked.” 學不學復眾人之所過 

Note: This first line may have originally been at the end of the previous lesson. But it fits just as well in this lesson.

Line 2

Line 2

Yes and no.*

How are they

so different?


​​​唯wěi  與yǔ  訶hē 

yes!      and        scold

​其qí  相xiāng 去qù   幾jǐ   何hé

(pron.)  mutual     depart  how much? (interrog.)

Yes! and scold.

How much are they mutually apart?

​     Lao Tzu asks us to question the many "certainties" in our lives. To what extent are due only firmly held beliefs resulting from our acquired conditioning?


* 唯wěi has the sense of a strong "Yes!" implying an immediate certainty; and 訶hē is typically used as a very strong rebuke.

Note: Compare this line to the lines of Lesson 2.

​​​  ​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 3

Line 3

Beauty and ugliness.

Don't they depend

on each other?


​​​​​​美měi  與yǔ  惡è  

beauty     and      ugly   

其qí   相xiāng  去qù   何hé   若ruò

(pron.)  mutual     depart  (interrog) similar to

Beauty and ugly.

As for their similarity,

how much do they mutually depart?

​​​​  ​​​​​​.​ ​​​​. . . . .

Line 4
Line 5

Line 4

Someone whom

others fear

will always

fear someone else.


​​人rén  之zhī    所suǒ  畏wèi

person   (pron.)   that which    fear

  亦yì  不bù 可kě 以yǐ 不bù 畏wèi 人rén

   also    not      can        use       not      fear     person

​​​The person feared,

also is not able to not fear people.


​​​. . . . . .


Line 6

Line 5

Think about it!

When would this

ever stop?

朢wàng    呵hē

  gaze at/hope        exclaim   

亓qí   未wēi   央yāng   哉zāi

(pron.)       not yet         end       (interrog.)

Look! How not ever end?


​​​. . . . . .



Line 6

Everyone else

is so cheerful and content,

as if off at some

grand feast* in countryside

and having a great time.


眾zhòng 人rén 熙xī   熙xī

multitude   people     bright    bright

若ruò  鄉xiāng 於yú 大dà 牢láo

as if     rural    (prep.)     great   feast 

而ér     春chūn      登dēng   臺tái

and     springtime/vigor   climb      terrace

​The multitudes are bright, bright.

​   as if off in the countryside for a great feast,

and with enough vigor to climb a terrace.



*Regarding the  大dà great  牢láo feast, Lau points out that this refers to  “the most elaborate kind of feast, and consists of the three kinds of animals, the ox, the sheep, and the pig. (D.C. Lau, Tao Te Ching, (Chinese University Press 2001) p.29)


  ​​​. . . . . .

Line 7

Line 7

But I am serene,

making no effort at all,

like an infant who

has not yet made a sound.


​​我wó  泊bó   焉yān   未wèi     佻tiāo 

      I        to anchor   thereupon     not yet   delay, unsteady    

若ruò  嬰yīng 兒ér  未wèi  咳kē

same as   baby     child     not yet    sigh, cough

​I am anchored, not yet unsteady;

the same as a baby who hasn’t yet sighed.

  ​​​. . . . . .



Line 8

Line 8

Alas! it seems that

I am the fool here

with nowhere to lay my head.


​​累lèi   呵hē

tired/endure exclaim   

如rú  佁yǐ  无wú  所suǒ  歸guī    

like     foolish  not have  where   return home

So much!  Like a foolish person

not having a home to return.


  ​​​. . . . . .



Line 9

Line 9

Everyone else has

enough and then more,

while I alone 

have lost everything.


​​​眾zhòng  人rén  皆jiē  有yǒu  餘yú

multitude      person     all       have    excess

我wǒ 獨dǔ 遺yí    

I       only       lose

 The multitudes all have excess.

I alone, lose.


  ​​​. . . . . .



Line 10

Line 10

How simpleminded I am!

There is no end to

my ignorance!

我wó  愚yú  人rén   之zhī   心xīn    也yě   

I      stupid    person     (poss.)    heart/mind     (part.)  

惷chǔn 惷chǔn  呵hē  

dumb       dumb       exclaim.

       I have the heart/mind of a stupid person.

Dumb, dumb!

  ​​​. . . . . .



Line 11

Line 11

Regular folks know

everything that matters.

I'm the only one

who is in the dark!


​鬻yù*   人rén    昭zhāo  昭zhāo 

​​sell/childish     person     bright        bright


我wǒ  獨dú  若ruò 昏hūn 呵hē   

I         alone    same as    dark   exclaim

 The common people are bright bright;

I alone seem  dark.


*鬻yù, “sell,” "childish," “nourish,” often in the sense of selling oneself to meet one’s needs. This character is found in both MWT texts, while the Wang Bi, He Shang Gong, and Fu Yi editions have 俗sú, meaning “common,” “regular,” “secular.”  

  ​​​. . . . . .



Line 12

Line 12

Regular folks

see it all so clearly.

I'm the only one who

is deluded and deceived!


鬻yù   人ren   察chá  察chá

to sell/nourish  person  examine  examine   

我wǒ  獨dú  若ruò 昏hūn 呵hē   

I         alone    same as    dark   exclaim

 The common people are bright bright;

I alone seem  dark!


  ​​​. . . . . .




Line 13

Line 13


like the ocean!

And wandering about

with nowhere to go!


​​惚hū     呵hē  

confused    (exclaim)

 其qí    若ruò  海hǎi 

(pron)   same as   ocean

朢wàng   呵hē

gaze at/expect     lose

其qǐ    若ruò   无wú   所suǒ 止zhǐ

(pron)   same as   not have   that which   stop

 . Indistinct! It is like the ocean!

Gazing far off, like not having a place to stop.


Note: There are a number of translations of this line, depending on the edition and the interpretation of the translator. Henricks, for example, reads ​惚hū and 朢wàng as "formless" and "shapeless." (Robert G. Henricks, Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching (Ballentine Books, NY 1989) pp 226-7)  Lau reads them as "unbounded" and "limitless."

Instead of 惚hū, the Wang Bi edition has 澹dàn, "tranquil" or "calm";  and in place of 朢wàng, the Wang Bi text has 飂liù, "wind in high places." That is the reason for several other readings of this line.

​​   ​​​. . . . . .


Line 14

Line 14

Everyone else has

a purpose in life.

I'm the only

bumpkin around.




眾zhòng 人rén  皆jiē 有yǒu 以yǐ

multitude     person     all       have       use


我wǒ  獨dú    頑wán   似sì  以yǐ   悝kuī 

    I         only     troubled    like     use     rustic/laugh at

The multitudes have their uses,

  I alone am ignorant like a rustic



  ​​​. . . . . .




Line 15

Line 15

Yet it is my yearnings alone

that set me apart

from others, in that

I treasure being nourished

by our mother.


​吾wú 欲yù  獨dú  異yì   於yú  人rén  

I     desire   only  different (prep.) person   


而ér     貴guì    食shí   母mǔ 

and/and yet     expensive     feed     mother.

My desires alone are different from people,

and value fed by mother.


  ​​​. . . . . .



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