Tao te ching

by Lao Tsu

Other authorsJane English (Translator), Gia-fu Feng (Translator)
Paperback, 1972





New York, Vintage Books [1972]


The Tao Te Ching, the esoteric but infinitely practical book written most probably in the sixth century B.C. by Lao Tsu, has been translated more frequently than any work except the Bible. This translation of the Chinese classic, which was first published twenty-five years ago, has sold more copies than any of the others. It offers the essence of each word makes Lao Tsu's teaching immediate and alive. The philosophy of Lao Tsu is simple: Accept what is in front of you without wanting the situation to be other than it is. Study the natural order of things and work with it rather than against it, for to try to change what is only sets up resistance. Nature provides for all without discrimination -- therefore let us present the same face to everyone and treat all men as equals, however they may be have. If we watch carefully, we will see that work proceeds more quickly and easily if we stop looking for results. In the clarity of a still and open mind, truth will be reflected. We will come to appreciate the original meaning of the word "understand," which means "to stand under." We serve whatever or whoever stands before us, without any thought for ourselves. Te -- which may be translated as "virtue" or "strength"--Lies always in Tao, or "natural law." In other words: Simply be. - Publisher.… (more)

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 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 Fledgist
The review that can be written is not the eternal review.
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 shawn_flecken
Probably the greatest religious/philosophical text ever written by man. This is the epitome of "deep."
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 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 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 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 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 dancingwaves
By far my favourite translation of the Tao Te Ching; it's accesible, yet still retains extraordinary beauty.
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 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 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 jolyon
Still the best, overall. Have had this for 30 years and it never palls.
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 martyr13
The tao te ching is pound for pound the greatest spiritual work ever written. 81 short pages written thousands of years ago still pack a serious punch, and are scarily relevant. This translation is not my favorite, so I rated it 4 stars instead of 5.
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 andersonden
I read this more than 10 years ago for a comparative religion class and keep coming back to it. I can't really comment on the translation since I don't know Chinese but certainly in this form it contains many pithy truths.
LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Philosophic fluff. Most of the good lines quoted something - from Shakespeare to Star Wars (not quotes exactly - evoke, more like). The glosses were interesting (why did Mitchell say it that way?) and amusing ("One gives birth to Two: Oy!"
LibraryThing member pansociety
The basic text of Taoism, filled with wisdom of the awareness of the Universe of the ancient Chinese.
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 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 GHTC-KC
Not being a translator, and not being fluent in Chinese, I have no idea whether this translation is more or less accurate than any other. But having read numerous translations of this work over the years, I can say that it is by far the most readable and enjoyable translations of the dao that I have encountered. The full impact of the poetry comes out. And what I believe would properly be the simplicity of thought inherent in Tao te Ching is also communicated. Especially in poetry, the 'best' translations are not the ones that are most accurate on a word-for-word, phrase-by-phrase measurement. They are the ones that seems to best communicate the heart and soul of what the author is saying. Particularly if you have read other translations and found them less than satisfying, this one will be well worth your time.

John H
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