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Verse Twenty

From: jimclatfelter
Posted: Wed Feb 06, 2008

Verse Twenty
Witter Bynner, 1944

Leave off fine learning! End the nuisance
Of saying yes to this and perhaps to that,
Distinctions with how little difference!
Categorical this, categorical that,
What slightest use are they!
If one man leads, another must follow,
How silly that is and how false!
Yet conventional men lead an easy life
With all their days feast days,
A constant spring visit to the Tall Tower,
While I am a simpleton, a do-nothing,
Not big enough yet to raise a hand,
Not grown enough to smile,
A homeless, worthless waif.
Men of the world have a surplus of goods,
While I am left out, owning nothing.
What a booby I must be
Not to know my way round,
What a fool!
The average man is so crisp and so confident
That I ought to be miserable
Going on and on like the sea,
Drifting nowhere.
All these people are making their mark in the world,
While I, pig-headed, awkward,
Different from the rest,
Am only a glorious infant still nursing at the breast.

Verse Twenty
Arthur Waley, 1934

Between wei and o
What after all is the difference?
Can it be compared to the difference between good and bad?
The saying €what others avoid I too must avoid€
How false and superficial it is?
All men, indeed, are wreathed in smiles,
As though feasting after the Great Sacrifice,
As though going up to the Spring Carnival.
I alone am inert, like a child that has not yet given sign;
Like an infant that has not yet smiled.
I droop and drift, as though I belonged nowhere.
All men have enough and to spare;
I alone seem to have lost everything.
Mine is indeed the mind of a very idiot,
So dull am I.
The world is full of people that shine;
I alone am dark.
They look lively and self-assured;
I alone depressed.
(I seem unsettled as the ocean;
Blown adrift, never brought to a stop.)
All men can be put to some use;
I alone am intractable and boorish.
But wherein I most am different from men
Is that I prize no sustenance that comes not from the Mother's breast.

Verse Twenty
Jeff Rasmussen, 2000

The world of distinctions is one of sorrow

Fools distinguish between
good and evil
yes and no
success and failure

What nonsense!

They appear

To them I seem
without direction
without possession

I am nourished by the Tao

From: jimclatfelter
Posted: Wed Feb 06, 2008

I remember Douglas quoting this verse. He would say that Seeing can be a valley experience rather than a peak experience. He referred to this verse where Lao Tze says he alone is depressed. I believe Douglas read the Arthur Waley translation. He may even have known Arthur Waley. I think I've seen an old group photo that included both of them.

Lao Tzu uses the first person in this verse. I take it that depressed could be depressed in the way a valley is depressed, rather than emotionally depressed. Jeff Rasmussen has it that: "To them I seem alone, without direction, without possession, dim, weak, aimless, different." These words can be used to describe what we see on the near side of the Tube. Do you think that Lao Tzu could be making a total distinction between the near side and far side of vision that are revealed in the Experiments?


From: Steve Palmer
Posted: Thu Feb 07, 2008

Thank you for that Jim.

I had found this verse hard to understand but the explanation by Douglas and yourself puts it in a new light.


From: jimclatfelter
Posted: Fri Feb 08, 2008

Hi Steve,

I'm glad it makes sense to you. I wasn't really sure seeing the distinction between I and others as corresponding to the first and third person of the experiments was true until I typed in the three versions of the verse. I just looked up some possible translations of the Chinese characters. Lao Tzu says others (third persons) are bright, energetic, alert, purposeful, have more than enough. He says I alone (first person) am calm, quiet, left behind, simple, muted and mum, playful and unruly. He says that I am like an infant who has not yet smiled. I like that last one. It fits perfectly with the stages Douglas talked and wrote about. It refers to the time when we still had our original face (no-face), and before we had an acquired face. I also like it that he said I alone. He used the first-person singular, present tense! I also like how he's complimentary to the third-person view, where he locates energy and brightness and purpose.

I could multiply those words by looking through the English translations. I think they would all fall neatly into first person and third person descriptions. I may just do that tomorrow. The terms he uses are descriptions of the near and far sides we see in the Tube experiment.


Posted: Sat Feb 09, 2008

Thank you Jim for putting these different translations after one another.
Don't they prove how difficult it is to talk about This in a clear way ?

I quite like the translation of Rasmussen. It is very condensed, probably not correct in a linguistic way but I think he touches the core of the verse.

In the translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English that I have, the first line is translated as : 'Give up what you have learned and thus end your worries'.
It reminds me of what Douglas used to say before an experiment. You can't really See anything if you stick to what you know or have learned, can you ?

This verse also reminds me of Eckhard Tolle. We were seeing the first part of his Findhorn retreat on DVD yesterday. He started by saying that the mind will find this retreat not interesting, just as a sunset is not interesting. It touches us on another level, not mentally, not interesting for the mind to analyse.
In the same way the Sage has nothing to tell, that is interesting. For the mind he is boring and dull.


From: jimclatfelter
Posted: Sun Feb 10, 2008

"Give up what you have learned and thus end your worries." Feng and English

"It reminds me of what Douglas used to say before an experiment. You can't really See anything if you stick to what you know or have learned, can you ?"

Hi Luc,

I'm so glad you caught that meaning. I had missed it completely. Witter Bynner begins this verse with "Leave off fine learning!" That does sound like Douglas saying "Go by what you behold, not by what you're told."

Now that you bring it up, I do remember Douglas talking about dropping all preconceptions and doing the experiments with the innocence of a child. Lao Tzu talks just like that in many of the verses. In this verse he says "Like an infant that has not yet smiled." That's just how Douglas wanted us to approach the experiments. Lao Tzu and Douglas sounding just alike€great discovery!

Thanks for sharing that, Luc.


From: simon
Posted: Mon Feb 11, 2008

Hi all,
yes, there is a nice humility to this verse, isn't there?
Effectively, 'headless' one has nothing to call one's own, no specific expertise and nothing that is not equally available to every one.
I remember walking through Salisbury during the summer gathering, enjoying Salisbury town centre as it passed through "me" - wondering what all the people were looking at (probably had an idiot grin on my face!)

Others do appear sharp, clearly defined... looking 'back' (to use headless terminology) there is an inertia, but not a solid obstacle,
Like an infant that has not yet smiled.

What a beautiful description!

Greatly enkoying this thread!
thanks all

From: jimclatfelter
Posted: Thu Feb 14, 2008

Hi Simon.

I'm glad you mentioned humility, and I like your definitions as it relates to having no head. Humility is one of Lao Tzu's Three Treasures in Verse 67. I hadn't thought about the headless way as being a "humble" way, but it certainly is just that€for just the reasons you say. The headless way gives me (each of us) nothing that is not equally available, again as you say, to everyone. It gives us Nothing. I like this definition of humility as equality. It reminds me of Douglas's way of calling all of us friends. There are no ranks in Seeing. No one is ahead of anyone else. THIS is identical in all of us, and as equally available, because it is always here whether we are looking or not.

This is jumping ahead a little, but it reminds me that one of the other treasures is frugality. And isn't headlessness the most economical way of coming back to our original nature? So easy, direct, simple, and fast! This seems to fit well with the way you define humility.

The other treasure is compassion. Headlessness, and the first person, is certainly open to all. So many things that Douglas said come to mind. The first person is built open and can shut no one out€and is built for compassion.

Here's a link to the three treasures:

It shows some of the English translations of the Chinese words for the three treasures. So often people read the Tao Te Ching as a prescription for improving themselves and the world (even though Lao Tzu warns us that this isn't possible), rather than as a description of how the world really is, now and always. The three treasures describe the headless way so well.


Posted: Mon Feb 25, 2008

hi all,

i like this humble verse. as it appears here...emptiness. lines and shapes appear out of the boundlessness. splashes of color appear out of colorlessness. sounds appear out of silence....and on and on. these things that appear, move through me, and this emptiness remains.

i remember first coming across headlessness and various teachings. skimming over them, and that leading to other teachings that led to other teachings, and so on. whatever i read, kept leading to another version, with more to learn. it was like more and more to learn.....there isn't an end.

but the more i learned, no matter how much i learned, i realized-

..... i still don't know.

it was perfect!


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Headless on Youtube

Click here for workshops with Richard Lang

Click here for information on online hangouts
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Click here for our online shop
Click here to get the free Headless iPhone app
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