Tao te ching : a new English version

by Laozi.,

Paper Book, 2006

Status

Available

Publication

New York : HarperPerennial, 2006.

Description

In 81 brief chapters, Lao-Tzu's Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, provides advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit, and teaches us how to work for the good with the effortless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao-the basic principle of the universe. Stephen Mitchell's bestselling version has been widely acclaimed as a gift to contemporary culture.

User reviews

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.
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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 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 Fledgist
The review that can be written is not the eternal review.
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.”
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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.
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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 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.
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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."
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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.
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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 shawn_flecken
Probably the greatest religious/philosophical text ever written by man. This is the epitome of "deep."
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 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 antiquary
This contains the Chinese text, parallel Korean text and commentary, and an English translation in an appendix.
LibraryThing member dancingwaves
By far my favourite translation of the Tao Te Ching; it's accesible, yet still retains extraordinary beauty.
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 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 co_coyote
One of the classics. This translation by Jane English is one of my favorites. Plus, the pictures are wonderful. Great memories of winter camping are conjured up, for some reason.
LibraryThing member bezoar44
I've tried reading other translations of the Tao Te Ching, and gave up, baffled and unmoved. But Stephen Mitchell's translation is both beautiful and accessible, and I've found it resonates in a way no other version has. I'm grateful.
LibraryThing member GlennBell
This short book includes a translation of the wisdom of Laotse (wise teacher) written over 2500 years ago. The book includes a discussion of the diety Tao, virtue (Teh), Yin (female, black, etc.) in relationship to Yang (male, white, etc.), and a discourse on leadership, government, education, and war.

Tao is the omnipresent, eternal, creator (God). Virtue has many aspects including knowing oneself, humility, contentment in what you have (contentment is wealth), self control, and selflessness. Yin and Yang are well known concepts that opposites exist in unity or provide completeness. There is a parallelism between Yin and Yang in the sermon on the mount (Jesus) where he states that the poor in spirit will be rich, etc. The discourse on leadership, government, education, and war makes alot of sense when one looks at the history of China before communism. There is a concept that education will bring discontentment. The nation does not need sophisticated weapons of war. Perhaps this explains why China could be defeated by Japan.

It is a short read and interesting. I recommend it.
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LibraryThing member Pattern-chaser
Daoist classic of oriental wisdom. Not easy to appreciate without help....
LibraryThing member pansociety
The basic text of Taoism, filled with wisdom of the awareness of the Universe of the ancient Chinese.
LibraryThing member eileansiar
"There was something undefined and complete, coming into extistence before Heaven and Earth. ... I do not know its name, and I give it the designation of the Tao (the way or course)." Thus wrote this ancient seer. And much more. A succinct guide to guide to the inner workings of 'life, the universe and all that,' - a hitchikers guide to the essential nature of creation. It's not what you think - instead, just get your striving ego out of the way, and let the Way flow into your life.… (more)
LibraryThing member jolyon
Still the best, overall. Have had this for 30 years and it never palls.

Language

Original language

Chinese

Other editions

Tao te ching by Lao Tsu (Paperback)
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