Tao te ching : a new English version

by Laozi.,

Paper Book, 2006




New York : HarperPerennial, 2006.


Written more than two thousand years ago, the Tao Teh Ching , or "The Classic of the Way and Its Virtue," has probably had a greater influence on Asian thought than any other single book. It is also one of the true classics of the world of spiritual literature. Traditionally attributed to the near-legendary "Old Master," Lao Tzu, the Tao Teh Ching teaches that the qualities of the enlightened sage or ideal ruler are identical with those of the perfected individual. Today, Lao Tzu's words are as useful in mastering the arts of leadership in business and politics as they are in developing a sense of balance and harmony in everyday life. To follow the Tao or Way of all things and realize their true nature is to embdy humility, spontaneity, and generosity. John C. H. Wu has done a remarkable job of rendering this subtle text into English while retaining the freshness and depth of the original. A jurist and scholar, Dr. Wu was a recognized authority on Taoism and the translator of several Taoist and Zen texts and of Chinese poetry.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member slothman
In the introduction, Le Guin explains that the Tao Te Ching has been an influential book throughout her life, and that over the years she has made efforts at producing her own rendition of the classic. (She won’t call it a translation, since she doesn’t actually speak Chinese, but she has done extensive research— she provides copious notes on how she chose particular renderings in the back of the book— and produced this in collaboration with a scholar of the language.) Her goal has been to distill the clarity of the classic for a modern reader who is more likely one citizen among millions rather than a leader seeking sagacious insights for rulership. The result is quite good, with a penetrating brevity I haven’t seen in the other translations I’ve read. I actually wound up reading it with another translation to hand when I wanted to get another perspective on the occasional verse, but I think the simplicity of her rendering is a good place to start before going out looking for more nuance.… (more)
LibraryThing member selfnoise
Librarything apparently won't allow me to review each edition separately. Oh well. I keep the Waley edition for his notes and his bare, literal, somewhat political translation. The Feng-English has a good balance between poetics and literalism and generally comes in a nice edition with Jane English's photographs. The Le Guin edition has the most beautiful English poetry I've seen in a translation and she has an interesting take on the text. Her notes are also funny, humble, and helpful.

It's good to own multiple English translations, as the thing is basically untranslatable in any perfect fashion.

As for the Tao Te Ching itself... I've read many philosophical and religious texts, and this is the one that speaks to me the most. Simple, humble, strikingly conservative yet almost revolutionary in this day and age. I go back to it as often as I can.
… (more)
LibraryThing member Fledgist
The review that can be written is not the eternal review.
LibraryThing member jinuu
I own and have read many translations of the Tao Te Ching, but this one is by far my favorite. Written in plain, common sense English, it renders the difficult philosophy accessible and easier to understand.
LibraryThing member MeditationesMartini
I was totally surprised to find out that this is actually a political treatise but less surprised to learn that quiescence is strength.
LibraryThing member shawn_flecken
Probably the greatest religious/philosophical text ever written by man. This is the epitome of "deep."
LibraryThing member varwenea
This book version: First, it is beautiful with inspiring/matching Chinese artwork including a texture look. Secondly, love that this version has English text with the Chinese text for each chapter every two pages, with the Chinese in the correct vertical from right to left with extra bonus points that the Chinese is done in calligraphy style. Thirdly, a very long introduction proved to be very educational and fitting. Now, the ding – the translation is too casual, using modern language that I personally don’t like, at one point using words like “me, me, me” in reference to selfishness. Hmm, I can read a little bit of Chinese, and I can promise you that’s not what the original text reads! The quotes below should give more flavors of this.

Tao Te Ching (TTC), when read with my modern metropolis city girl mind, instructs “The Way”, “The Virtue”, and the “The Coda” as a reminder to the simplicity of life, easily forgotten as we plow forward with our day-to-day to-do list. Contrary to Chapter 41 where “Those who think that the Way is easy will find it extremely hard”, I think the Way is hard and still find it extremely hard! TTC also depressed me a bit (true statement). If life is supposed to be following the way of ‘nothing’, then I sure have been working my ass off for no good reason. If wisdom and knowledge is to be condemned and vilified, then part of my identity is evil. The unspoken expectation, then and now, was simply always be ‘more’, quite not the ‘Tao’.

Of course, I’m not taking TTC literally. The complexities of living do not readily allow for it. (Try and explain TTC to the IRS.) Instead, I take from it a few nuggets that are meaningful. Here’s an abbreviated list:

Introduction: 1) “Wu-Wei doesn’t mean just sitting about doing nothing. It means ‘being’, it means being receptive, and it means going beyond our egos in what we do and how we do what we do.” 2) “I see the essence of the Tao as poetic, with all that implies, and all we still have to learn – to really be here, and to let go.”

Ch1 (Start of Tao): “Following the nothingness of the Tao, and you can be like it, not needing anything, seeing the wonder and the root of everything.” --- Meaning that nothing is something.

Ch 2: 1) “Neither future nor past can exist alone.” --- Acceptance and remembrance of who you were and who you have become. 2) “Life is made – and no one owns it.”

Ch 20: Seek and want nothing. “What do the people want? Money and things. And yet I find I have nothing, and I don’t care. I am as unambitious as any fool.”

Ch 28: Learn to yield, learn to bend, learn to think anew. “Understand the thrust of the yang – but be more like the yin in your being… Be like a stream… Be newborn – be free of yourself…”

Ch 38 (Start of Te): Reminded me of leadership, a truly good leader. “A Man of Te rules by Wu-Wei, doing nothing for himself or of himself… A man who rules with compassion, acts through it – and no one even realizes.”

Ch 44: “If you’re not always wanting, you can be at peace. And if you’re not always trying to be someone, you can be who you really are.”

Ch 67: “I have three priceless treasures: Compassion, Thrift, Humility… These days people scorn compassion. They try to be tough. They spend all they have, and yet want to be generous. They despise humility, and want to be the best.”
… (more)
LibraryThing member datrappert
As D.C. Lau points out in his highly readable introduction to this Penguin Classics edition, it is highly unlikely that Lao Tzu was an acutal person, despite stories of Confucius once going to see him. Instead, the contents of the Tao Te Ching seem to be a distillation and compilation of early Daoist thought. Like the Analects of Confucius, there are passages that are corrupted and whose meaning is either unfathomable or in dispute. There are also certain ideas that are repeated in nearly identical phrases in different parts of this very short work. Compared to the Analects of Confucius, this is a shorter, easier read, but like that work, I’m sure it benefits from reading in multiple translations and from reading more about it—not just of it. Since the Teaching Company doesn’t have a course on this book as they do for the Analects, I’ll just have to rely more on my own first impressions. Daoist philosophy (or Taoist, if you want to use the old spelling—but Daoist is how you pronounce it) is intriguing because it seems to rely on not taking action rather than on actually doing anything. It is full of things such as, “He who speaks doesn’t know.” And “He who knows doesn’t speak.” You’ll be nodding your head at things like that, comparing them to your own life experience. Putting such ideas into practice, however, seems problematic. No wonder some famous Daoists were monks. I’m not sure how following the precepts in this book would work in most people’s lives, unlike, for example, applying a few Buddhist tenets. I’m sure they wouldn’t fly at my house when it’s time to wash the dishes. But I’m trivializing things here. Just trying to wrap your mind around these concepts and spending a while contemplating them is beneficial. We do, for instance, act far more often than we should. How many times can we think of when not doing something would have served us better? But we just felt compelled to act, since that seems to be part of our human nature. Not to mention being easier to explain to your friends if your act goes wrong. I’m still trivializing, I guess. I highly recommend reading this well-done translation and its commentary. There are, for instance, a lot of ebooks available that give you an old translation of this work—which may be a fine translation for all I know—but without some context, you will lose much of the pleasure of reading. People who write books with titles that include “before you die” in them should immediately die themselves before they can write more such books. But if you’re an intelligent person, and if you have a little time to spare and an interest in philosophy, give this a try and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.… (more)
LibraryThing member wildbill
Written by Laozi shortly before the Analects of Confucius this classic Chinese text has been more frequently translated than any book except the Bible. It is one of the foundations of East Asian thought that is still read today. The Tao Te Ching provides a combination of spirituality, common sense advice and a little nonsense to remind us that we live in world that cannot be known. Much of the text is open to a wide variety of interpretations. The beginning is a famous quote that provides a good example:

The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

There is an important thought conveyed in those two lines that loses its' meaning if you try to reduce it to an objective fact.

On the other hand the following lines are simple good advice about how to live your life.

In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.
In speech, be true.
In ruling, be just.
In business, be competent.
In action, watch the timing.

One of the author's favorite devices is the use of contradictions to express an idea.

When the Tao is present in the universe,
The horses haul manure.
When the Tao is absent from the universe,
War horses are bred outside the city.

The Tao Te Ching is eighty-one verses and each time I read it I discover something new. For me that is the hallmark of a truly great book. The edition I have is filled with full page pictures and has the original Chinese on the opposite page from the translation.
… (more)
LibraryThing member le.vert.galant
This translation with commentary by Ellen M. Chen has the reputation for being the best contemporary explication of the Tao Te Ching. I can't claim to have glanced at more than a few of the scores of translations currently available, but I did find that this had the terseness that I expect mimics the original. Also, the translation is careful to use the same English word to represent a given Chinese word whenever it appears in the text. This doubtless makes the translation less poetic, but it brings out the rigor of the Taoist philosophy.

The commentary is amazing. Chen takes a philosophical rather than religious approach to the Tao Te Ching. Her commentary not only draws on Chinese texts from the Confucian, legalist, and Taoist traditions, but also on such western philosophers as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Thomas, Hegal, Proudhon, Marx, Freud, and Wittgenstein (the Tao is like that "whereof one cannot speak"). The result is a book that places Taoism in a global philosophical context, emphasizing its commonalties and, especially, its differences with other schools of thought.
… (more)
LibraryThing member gbsallery
Not a patch on Machiavelli, yet written from the same point of view: as advice for a would-be leader. The Tao Te Ching speaks from a point of view which I find very hostile, that of providing wisdom for an aspiring leader of a hegemonistic and ambiguous state. The advice includes tips on keeping your peasants stupid and happy, and much mystical mumbo-jumbo which doesn't stand up to ten seconds' solid thinking. Mysteriously popular.… (more)
LibraryThing member bkinetic
Laozi's set of 81 brief chapters sets forth the philosophy of Taoism. The author cautions the reader that words alone cannot faithfully describe his subject, the Tao or the way of the universe, which in our time has led some to dismiss this perspective due to its ambiguity. Enigmas and apparent contradictions appear frequently, which compelled me to pause to contemplate what Laozi was trying to convey. The necessity of pausing and reflecting makes reading this material fulfilling, especially when I felt I moved closer to understanding.

I found the three jewels of Taoism appealing: Compassion, frugality (also translated as restraint and moderation), and humility (or not seeking to be first). Laozi is also persuasive in advocating selective gradual change rather than confrontation.

This book is not for the been-there-done-that crowd, who see the ideal life as a experience of episodes of serial consumption. Instead the truths here are intended to be revealed though a combination of experience and contemplation. Some have wisely recommended memorizing some of the chapters, allowing the enigmas and puzzles to remain with us and perhaps to be solved later on with the help of experiential and contextual diversity.

The edition I read was translated by Thomas H. Miles and his students. It served my purpose well, though at times I would have appreciated some additional commentary to supplement the helpful existing guidance. Miles' translation also has some useful introductory material in which key terms are defined, insofar as that is possible within Taoism. I intend to read other translations to get a better idea of the range of interpretations.
… (more)
LibraryThing member gbill
Profound writing, and I love this edition for including the chinese characters and beautiful photography.

Ch. 20 is my favorite:
"Give up learning, and put an end to your troubles.

Is there a difference between yes and no?
Is there a difference between good and evil?
Must I fear what others fear? What nonsense!
Other people are contented, enjoying the sacrificial feast of the ox.
In spring some go to the park, and climb the terrace,
But I alone am drifting, not knowing where I am.
Like a newborn babe before it learns to smile,
I am alone, without a place to go.

Others have more than they need, but I alone have nothing.
I am a fool. Oh, yes! I am confused.
Other men are clear and bright,
But I alone am dim and weak.
Other men are sharp and clever,
But I alone am dull and stupid.
Oh, I drift like the waves of the sea,
Without direction, like the restless wind.

Everyone else is busy,
But I alone am aimless and depressed.
I am different.
I am nourished by the great mother."
… (more)
LibraryThing member heidialice
Classic, beautifully translated (and beautiful accompanying photographs). This is comforting in its timelessness, and shakes me out of being stuck in my head. A text I return to over and over.
LibraryThing member beau.p.laurence
had to get this version for a class. written by a Western philosopher who struggles to grasp the deeper meaning in Lao Tzu's words. so much is "lost in translation." get the version by Jonathan Star instead.
LibraryThing member pansociety
The basic text of Taoism, filled with wisdom of the awareness of the Universe of the ancient Chinese.
LibraryThing member illprose
Translating great works of spiritual literature has never been an easy task, or one without its controversy. Whether it is the Bible, which, in its preeminent King James Version is still riddled with inaccuracies, or the Koran, a text which is too holy to even have any such thing as an authoritative translation, one thing is certain: Religious texts are always a point of conflict among scholars, priests, and laymen.

That said, Stephen Mitchell does an excellent job of providing a version of the Tao Te Ching for the layman.

I say 'version' instead of 'translation' because Mitchell actually knows no Chinese. He does have the experience of a poet, being a translator of Rilke's work as well as other spiritual texts such as the Hinduist Baghavad Gita. And despite his lack of being a true translator, he is a practitioner of the Tao, and is familiar with Zen in a way that translators usually aren't.

What makes this version of the Tao Te Ching different from others may be its poetic language. Mitchell's interpretation is a calm one, marked by simple, concise words that do not obscure the meaning of the text in any way. In the hands of a bad translator, the Tao would seem like the musings of an Eastern sophist, but in the hands of Mitchell, the Tao is easier to understand (to the extent it can be understood in words).

Mitchell writes:
Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The prose reflects a stillness that is most appropriate to the Tao; it — in Mitchell's words — “makes the hidden present.”

The Tao Te Ching can be read in many ways. To some, it is about the basic principles of the universe, the exploration of a idea neither secular nor religious. To others, it is a guide for rulers. Although primarily considered a spiritual reference, the Tao Te Ching can be used by statesman or other leaders. There are many passages in which an attractive governmental philosophy is espoused, one that is consistent with the Tao, which is neither tyrannically oppressive nor liberally excessive; it “hold[s] on to the center,” true to Taoist thought.

The wisdom of Lao-tzu, his short masterpiece the Tao Te Ching, is covered by Mitchell in a modern, accessible way. It could be recommended to everyone but scholars looking for word-to-word translations. Mitchell puts a contemporary spin on the work without being irreverent, taking it into the twenty-first century gracefully.

This old classic contains advice sorely needed in our time, and this new version shatters the myth that it can't be understood by the West. It can, and now more than ever.
… (more)
LibraryThing member duck2ducks
Pretty good, but the few poems I had encountered before reading this in its entirety proved to be the best of the bunch. Some are inspiring and beautifully written, while others are plainer - but that's to be expected of a work composed by a multitude of hands over many years. Really great ideas and values to reflect upon and try to keep in mind though, which is where this book earns most of its praise.… (more)
LibraryThing member jolyon
Still the best, overall. Have had this for 30 years and it never palls.
LibraryThing member kawgirl
You will not find a better, more accessible translation of the Tao te Ching than this one. Mitchell's translation is a must read.
LibraryThing member www.snigel.nu
A very thorough and yet comprehensive translation and interpretation of Daodejing. Complete with a chapter discussing the text and its implications.
LibraryThing member adeptmagic
beautiful writing for anyone, not just those interested in oriental philosophy
LibraryThing member phrontist
I'm not grandiose enough to review the content, but this is the most readable translation I've come across, and print quality is great.
LibraryThing member antiquary
This contains the Chinese text, parallel Korean text and commentary, and an English translation in an appendix.
LibraryThing member colinwu
Not something to be read cover to cover but as something to pick up occassionally and open randomly - then contemplate (or meditate) on what you've read. Some of the language has obviously been updated.


Original language


Other editions

Tao te ching by Lao Tsu (Paperback)
Page: 0.6329 seconds