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The Essential Tao

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  746 ratings  ·  29 reviews
An initiation into the heart of Taoism through the authentic Tao Te Ching and the inner teachings of Chuang Tzu. Cleary's insightful translation of these two classic Chinese texts is further enhanced by his informative introduction and commentary.
168 pages
Published 2000 (first published 1991)
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Average rating 4.11  · 
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Craig Werner
The four stars are for the translation. Ranking the Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu is a fairly hilarious idea, equivalent to rating the New Testament. No book of any sort is more important to my way of thinking and, to the extent I can stay centered and uncentered, acting, in the world. Taoism is grounded in notions of flow, of the generative emptiness at the center of all things, and the Tao Te Ching particularly emphasizes the implications for political and social life.

For Americans, the main
Sep 16, 2012 rated it it was ok
My problem with the Tao Te Ching and the Teachings of Chang Tzu is that they are too esoteric. I started reading with the expectation that they might have some unique wisdom, but they are too hard to understand for me. There are too many poorly defined terms like "being", "the Way", etc.
In fact, I felt like much of either of the two ancient texts in this book were alluding to philosophical issues in a very crude way, philsophical issues that I am already familiar with. So these texts are only
Man O'neal
Apr 06, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This philosophy of Taoism, at least from my understanding, can be summed up very simply: Complete and absolute indifference. One should not care about anything. One should simply be like a leaf in the wind and go where it is taken. This translastion seems to convey that clearly enough without losing any of the mysticism that these texts are known for. That's all I have to say I suppose.
Mar 13, 2014 rated it liked it
A classic, but clearly you have to be in the mood for this sort of thing (somewhat for the Tao Te Ching, but especially for the Chuang-tzu). I would recommend that one read this before reading too deeply of Woody Allen; otherwise you spend all your time waiting for the twist.

An example: "A man who raised monkeys said he would give them three chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening. The monkeys all became angry at this. Then the man said instead he would give them four in the morning
May 31, 2013 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: I'd recommend a different translation.
Recommended to Chad by: someone on the Internet
It's a translation of the Tao Te Ching plus Chuang Tzu, and it's not completely incompetent, so perhaps it deserves more than one star. On the other hand, having read probably a couple dozen different translations of the Tao Te Ching, the political and ethical bias Cleary brings to this version is blatant and jarring, which inclines me to give it no more than one star anyway. It might be interesting to read just to see what it has to say about Cleary's perspective on the Tao, but if what you're ...more
Nov 05, 2016 rated it it was ok
Combines the verses of the Tao de Ching with writings attributed to Chuang Tzu. I prefer the translation of the Tao that I have been reading since the 1980's. (The one by Mitchell that I have reviewed on GoodReads.) I found the writing to be obtuse and not all that interesting or enlightening. The best part of the book was the historical background on the Tao and its relationship with Buddhism and other ancient philosophies, a small chapter at the back of the book.
Dec 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Cleary is the preeminent translator of Chinese thought. He does a predictably excellent job making this classic retain the musical reading style of the original Chinese, as well as convey the simple, yet profound, philosophy.
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is great as it has both the Tao Te Ching and the teachings of Chuang Tzu in the same publication. If you're interested in learning more about Tao or exploring it for the first time, this would be a book I would recommend.
Aug 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
Lots of great wisdom here. Especially for the Western mind.
Jul 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: china, religion
This has the most clear and understandable English translation of Tao te Ching that I've read. It also includes Chuang-tzu, which can be hard to find.

Is one ever 'finished' with a book such as this?
Lucas Miller
Nov 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't really know how to assign a star rating to this. I'm not nearly well read enough in Chinese philosophy to make a judgement about the translation of presentation of the Daodeching or Zhuangzi here, but it felt introductory and also very much a product of the 1990s. I'm not sure why.

I picked this up because I got suckered into give a forty minute lecture about Confucianism and Daoism to a group of about 60 seniors in high school, and I never imagined I would be so struck by it.

My reading
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was ok
I have read several translations of Tao Te Ching and this was the least accessible of them. I like the format of the volume, beginning with Tao Te Ching and proceeding through Chuang Tzu to a helpful historical essay and a (not-so-helpful) commentary in the end, but the execution of the format did not impress me. I would recommend looking elsewhere for those seeking an introduction to the principles of Taoism.
Aldwin Susantio
Jun 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Beautiful words, but hard-to-understand meaning. The language of this book is not straightforward, therefore, you have to contemplate the words before you understand its meaning. If you're seeking instant practical understanding of Tao, i do not recommend this book. But, if you love to interpret poetry, maybe you'll appreciate this book.
Nov 07, 2009 rated it really liked it
I've been reading the Tao Te Ching in daily installments from Daily Lit. It's something totally different from what I normally read.
The Tao Te Ching consists of 81 short poems, which you can read here. It was written about 2,500 years ago by Lao Tzu and is the basis for the philosophical school of Taoism.
Most of the themes in the Tao Te Ching are about living life simply and doing away with material things.

'He who knows other men is discerning; he who knows himself is intelligent. He who
General Notes: This book was sweet because as a newcomer to eastern thought it had both the Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. (Chuang Tzu stuff is harder to find in libraries, sometimes.) I didn't realize how important Chuang Tzu was until I used this book to check him out. This Thomas Cleary translation seems weak for the Tao Te Ching, but good for Chuang Tzu. Also, it will be impossible to understand Chuang Tzu if you haven't read Lao-Tzu first. And even then it is still sometimes hard to understand ...more
Tim Weakley
I had great trouble with the concepts as expressed. I kept trying to compare a lot of the central ideas with those of buddhism, and getting lost in the differences. I found that I needed to keep going back with a mental reset and rereading central passages but I don't think it helped me very much. Buddhism came so easily to me. Taoism is very much an esoteric realm.
Oct 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing
On the top 10 list of best philosophy works of all time in my opinion. Deep insights into the origin of life the universe, humankind , the human condition, values, and principles to life by and even more. I can read the same passage numerous times and get a different meaning depending on my own perspective at the time. A philosophy must.
Feb 25, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: serious
Although this is an accurate translation it lacks the poetry many other translators strive towards. It does do a good job on the historical background of Taoism. I plan on giving this to my son as his first book on The Tao.
Tim Jones
Feb 05, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A good look at the fundamental teachings of Taoism. This book really makes you think about life.
Sep 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Love this combo as presented by Cleary. I find value in the many versions of these classic texts.
Dec 07, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religious, lrp, new-lrp
Not as good as other Tao Te Ching translations. This one just has the author's version of the poems with no synopsis or comment.
Barbra Ann
Jan 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: insight
Published in 1992, the world needs this book . . . . ...more
Sarah Crawford
Feb 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
The book consists of an introduction, a translation of the Tao Te Ching, a long section on the writings of Chuang-tzu, notes and an article on the historical background of the Tao Te Ching.
Feb 10, 2011 is currently reading it
slow going. good insights as i return to the taoist tai chi socity
Will Harrison
Jan 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Wonderful & very complete introduction to both Tao & Chuangzi, essential texts for spiritual wanderers 8)
May 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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Andrew Whitelaw
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Oct 09, 2012
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Nov 19, 2007
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