The first verse is as follows (in pinyin): “dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào”. A common translation is something like this: “The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao” (tr. Stephen Mitchell). However, if we look at the text closely we will immediately see a problem with this. Let us break down each term.
dào: the mysterious term, which HPB equates with Anima Mundi
. We have given our own interpretation of its esoteric meaning here: The Meaning of Tao
kě: can; may; able to
fēi: non-; not-; un-
cháng: always; ever; often; frequently; common; general; constant
If we were to follow the common method of translating this verse we would be required to give it more literally as “The tao that can be taoed is not the eternal tao.” There is no idea of “telling” or “being told”, etc., in this verse—the common translations attempt to give a certain meaning, as the translators see it, but in their attempt they fail to follow the very terms themselves. However, as HPB hints at above, there is another way. Her translation of this opening verse is: “The Principle which exists by Itself, developing Itself from Itself.” Ours follows a similar approach.