Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Ching of the Tao and its Te

Oh, geez, I'm on vacation, and I forgot to bring a book to the beach so I could review it. I left it at the library. So as I packed, I grabbed a couple, thinking I'd decide when I got here which to review. My choices were The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems, by Billy Collins, and Lao-Tzu: Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-Wang-Tui Texts.

I have to go with Lao-Tzu. My apologies to the wonderful Billy Collins.

Lao-Tzu's book is usually titled Tao Te Ching, roughly translated as The classic (ching) of the Way (Tao) and its Virtue (Te).

Manuscripts found in 1973, more than five centuries older than any others then known, reverse the order of the topics. Translator Robert Henricks presents them here that way, addressing virtue first, then Tao.

The Tao Te Ching has been called a cybernetic holy book. Cybernetics is the science of communication and control in animals and machines (Some plants have recently been discovered to communicate chemically, so it may be time to expand the science.). It developed around the end of World War 2.

Here is the first chapter of the Tao half of the book:

"As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things;
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.

Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive its subtlety.

Those constantly with desires, by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek.

These two together emerge;
They have different names yet they're called the same;
That which is even more profound than the profound --
The gateway of all subtleties."

I recommend comparing as many translations as you can find, because there is always something lost in translation. D. C. Lau has done a couple, one before the Ma-wang-tui manuscripts were discovered, and one after. They are both among my favorite versions. I am currently reading a Spanish translation (El Tao Para Todos), hoping to improve my Spanish, and to gain further insight into Chinese wisdom. If you don't like Chinese wisdom, might I recommend The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems?


Katie said...

Another facinating and entertaining book I would recommend in the category of Chinese wisdom would be Zhuangzi Speaks: The Music of Nature, by Tsai Chih Chung. It's about Daoism and it's a really fun read. The whole book is comic art and you are following the father of daoism on his adventures and hearing his stories. It's a really fun and interesting (and surprisingly subtle) way of learning about what Daoism works.

gonovice said...

Thanks for the recommendation. I also like The Tao of Pooh, very much.