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Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
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bookshelves: chinese, philosophyland, religions-myths-and-other-stories
Read 2 times. Last read July 15, 2018 to August 18, 2018.

Concatenated thoughts. Review #1 - #2 ✔

Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.

The Tao Te Ching is a classical text credited to Chinese philosopher and writer Lao Tzu (6th century) and on which Taoism is based. It consists of 81 short chapters written in poetic form which, using a pithy language brimming with evocative and, at times, repetitive contradictions, provide guidance on how humanity may have a harmonious relationship with nature, with the Tao. In an inspiringly laconic way, the chapters reveal the sage’s fundamental truths that range from theology to politics, inseparable components of the Tao Te Ching.

I read two editions simultaneously: Ellen Chen’s The Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary and Stephen Mitchell’s Tao Te Ching: A New English Version. After reading chapter 11 by the latter, the merits of each work became particularly noticeable.
Chen's translation is an accurate marvel. It's the kind of translation I like; as literal as possible. I don't want only the translator's interpretation, I want to know the precise words that went through the author's mind. I've made peace with everything that gets lost in translation, so at least give me surgical precision.
On the opposite side stands Mitchell with another approach: divesting the verses of all metaphor, he focuses on the meaning, the thoughts Lao Tzu intended to convey. In that sense, it's a remarkable work; a detailed examination of all the elements that constitute this treatise. While keeping a small amount of literality, it expresses a similar interpretation.

If I have to choose, I prefer Chen's academic translation with its enriching commentary over Mitchell's version with its still lyrical directness. Even though she generally refers to the sage as a man, whereas Mitchell states that since we are all, potentially, the Master (since the Master is, essentially, us), I felt it would be untrue to present a male archetype, as other versions have, ironically, done. Ironically, because of all the great world religions the teaching of Lao tzu is by far the most female.

As for my experience with this book, I should revisit it in a few years... The dynamics between opposites that say and don't say, that affirm and deny, that teach without speaking and act without doing; it all starts to get a tad annoying after a while. I wasn't able to identify with some notions, naturally; my skeptical disposition began to take control rather soon. However, The Tao Te Ching includes several useful concepts to improve our fleeting stay in this world. Moreover, many of those impressions are addressed to politicians. In that regard, this book should be required reading for every single one of them.

I close this 'review' with some chapters according to the views of each translator.**

#18
When the great Tao is forgotten,
Goodness and pity appear…

Notes:
the great Tao: Jayata said to Vasubandu, “If you have nothing to ask for in your mind, that state of mind is called the Tao”.
goodness and pity appear: When the Tao is forgotten, people act according to rules, not from the heart. This goodness is as insecure as Job's and can be as self-satisfied as Little Jack Horner's. Whereas a good father has no intention of being good; he just acts naturally.

*

#30
Whoever relies on the Tao in governing men
doesn't try to force issues
or defeat enemies by force of arms.
For every force there is a counter force.
Violence, even well intentioned,
always rebounds upon oneself.
The Master does his job and then stops.
He understands that the universe
is forever out of control,
and trying to dominate events
goes against the current of the Tao.
Because he believes in himself,
he doesn’t try to convince others.
Because he is content with himself,
he doesn’t need other’s approval.
Because he accepts himself,
the whole world accepts him.

Notes:
doesn't try to force issues: He lets the issues resolve themselves.
out of control: Out of control of his own, tiny, personal, conscious self.

*

#66
All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power.

If you want to govern the people,
you must place yourself below them.
If you want to lead the people,
you must learn how to follow them.

The Master is above the people,
and no one feels oppressed.
She goes ahead of the people,
and no one feels manipulated.
The whole world is grateful to her.
Because she competes with no one,
no one can compete with her.

Notes:
The Master is above the people: Not that she feels superior, but that, looking from a higher vantage point, she can see more.
The whole world is grateful to her: Even those who think they are ungrateful.
no one can compete with her: She sees everyone as her equal.


Aug 18, 18
* Also on my blog.
** I shared the same chapters on each review.
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Reading Progress

December 13, 2017 – Shelved
July 15, 2018 – Started Reading
July 15, 2018 – Started Reading (Paperback Edition)
July 16, 2018 –
20.0% "...
Care about people's approval
and you will be their prisoner."
July 18, 2018 –
27.0% "Must you value what others value,
avoid what others avoid?"
July 23, 2018 –
40.0% "Almost half a book and if you ask me what Tao is, I can only mention opposites to describe it - which explains nothing, basically. But #27, #30 and #33 were particularly amazing. Don't read this without commentary, it'd be useless."
July 29, 2018 –
45.0% "the greatest art seems unsophisticated,
the greatest love seems indifferent,
the greatest wisdom seems childish"
August 5, 2018 –
54.0% "He never expects results;
thus he is never disappointed.
He is never disappointed;
thus his spirit never grows old."
August 18, 2018 – Shelved (Paperback Edition)
August 18, 2018 –
60.0% "#63
...
When she runs into a difficulty,
she stops and gives herself to it.
She doesn't cling to her own comfort;
thus problems are no problem for her."
August 18, 2018 –
page 200
72.99% "#63
...
He who makes promises lightly seldom keeps his words.
He who takes much to be easy finds much to be difficult.
Therefore even the sage takes things to be difficult,
So that in the end they are not difficult."
(Paperback Edition)
August 18, 2018 –
page 215
78.47% "#71
From knowing to not knowing (chih, pu chih),
This is superior.
From not knowing to knowing (pu chih, chih),
This is sickness.
It is by being sick of sickness,
That one is not sick."
(Paperback Edition)
August 18, 2018 –
65.0% "#71
Not-knowing is true knowledge.
Presuming to know is a disease.
First realize that you are sick;
then you can move toward health."
August 18, 2018 –
100.0% "#81
True words aren't eloquent;
eloquent words aren't true."
August 18, 2018 –
page 274
100.0% "#81
Truthful (hsin) words (yen) are not beautiful,
Beautiful (mei) words are not truthful."
(Paperback Edition)
August 18, 2018 – Finished Reading (Paperback Edition)
August 18, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-14 of 14 (14 new)

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message 1: by Kazemmiran (new)

Kazemmiran Booklover


Florencia Kazemmiran wrote: "Booklover"

Naturally.


message 3: by Fede (new)

Fede I value what I shoul avoid and avoid what I should value. Love me or leave me. ;D


Florencia Fede wrote: "I value what I shoul avoid and avoid what I should value. Love me or leave me. ;D"

By adding "should", you're suggesting your own individuality, making choices by yourself, I suppose, not following others for the sake of following or agreeing out of guilt and feeling all self-conscious and whatnot (to each his own, I just don't want that for me). However, those verses go beyond that, analyzing the fears of the Taoist and the people controlled by their wordly goods.


message 5: by Fede (new)

Fede Beautiful verses however. Thanks for sharing them, Flor.


Florencia Fede wrote: "Beautiful verses however. Thanks for sharing them, Flor."

Thanks for reading them. :)


Dolors What a comprehensive critique, Flo. You not analysed two translations of this classic almost from an academic point of view but also added your own interpretation to the text. As usual, brilliant review!


message 8: by Alejandro (new)

Alejandro Great job in the review, Florencia :)


Florencia Dolors wrote: "What a comprehensive critique, Flo. You not analysed two translations of this classic almost from an academic point of view but also added your own interpretation to the text. As usual, brilliant r..."

What a joy to read your words again. :) It's wonderful to see that you also read and enjoyed this enlightening and at times rather cryptic piece of writing. It takes so much time to even begin to comprehend some of its notions. I'll re-read this book someday. And then again, and again. Thanks so much for taking some time to leave your kind comment.


message 10: by Ilse (new)

Ilse Intrigued after reading both of your write-ups, I was tempted to compare with the version I found on my shelf in my mother tongue, Florencia - which seems a more literal translation, very much in line with Chen's - my edition has a few notes, but nothing that comes close to your enlightening comments. Excellent work!


Florencia Alejandro wrote: "Great job in the review, Florencia :)"

Many thanks, Alejandro. :)


Florencia Ilse wrote: "Intrigued after reading both of your write-ups, I was tempted to compare with the version I found on my shelf in my mother tongue, Florencia - which seems a more literal translation, very much in l..."

The normal thing is to find those kinds of translations, it seems. I wasn't expecting Mitchell's liberties, but I'm glad I read it - though I'm also glad I didn't read this edition alone, for I received a still remarkable but very different version.
Thanks so much for your kind comment. :)


RK-ïsme I read your reviews when they came out, meant to comment and . . . . ?

In any event, I enjoyed your take on the two versions and on the Tao as a whole. I have read numerous editions, including Mitchell's. I, like you, have a preference for the more literal. Mitchell tends to be more poetic and, as I recall, he gives a Buddhist take on the book. I shall eventually get to Helen Chen's version. It is in a pile around here somewhere.

I do believe that we have a great deal to gain from reading Asian thought. Just as we can still learn from Plato, Aristotle and Pyrrho (my favourite), we can learn a great deal by trying to view the world through ancient Indian and Chinese thinkers. Their distinctive views of the world can, I believe, adjust and perhaps clarify our own sometimes twisted and tainted views.

Your own views are already distinctive and much broadened by your readings of various poets of the world. I am always impressed. Thanks for the reviews.


Florencia RK-ïsme wrote: "I read your reviews when they came out, meant to comment and . . . . ?

In any event, I enjoyed your take on the two versions and on the Tao as a whole. I have read numerous editions, including Mit..."


Time, dedication, an open mind and different editions; the key to get a better understanding. Some of the difficulties I mentioned in the review were, of course, due to that tainted views you referred to. Much to learn from these texts and perceptive readers like you.
Many thanks for reading and commenting, RK.


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