Tao Te Ching Translations


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Thank you Vajradhara for the recommendation on Thomas Cleary's translation of Tao Te Ching. Just picked up a copy of The Essential Tao.

As far as translation go this is quite different from the one I've been reading.

Chapter 1 from two translations:

Chapter 1
The tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal Name.

The nameless is the bourndary of Heaven and Earth.
The named is the mother of creation.

Freed from desire, you can see the hidden mystery.
By having desire, you can only see what is visibly real.

Yet mystery and reality emerge from the same source.
This source is called darkness.

Darkness born from darkness.
The beginning of all understanding.
-translated by J. H. McDonald

Chapter 1
A way can be a guide, but not a fixed path;
names can be given, but not permanent labels.
Nonbeing is called the beginning of heaven and earth;
being is called the mother of all things.
Always passionless, thereby observe the subtle;
ever intent, thereby observe the apparent.
These two come from the same source but differ in name;
both are considered mysteries.
The mystery of mysteries
is the gateway of marvels.
-translated by Thomas Cleary

These were not put in order of my preference. They don't seem to be translated from the same piece of work. Are they both saying the same thing and I just don't understand?
Namaste theocritus,

thank you for the post.

they are from the same source text... what you are seeing is, to put it bluntly, a difference in scholarship.

even having said that, though, both of those passages are communicating the same sort of thing, using some different terminology.

as an aside... i would encourage you to be open with regards to the translations that you may read... i have one translation that is written in Chinese that is in a completely different form... it is very poetic in it's formulations and often, seems to gloss over somethings which are confusing and, for somethings which seem straight forward, it spends a considerable amount of time :)

overall.. what they are trying to communicate cannot be communicated in any verbalization, thus, it is quite possible that one of the translations that you read will just "feel right", which is how it was when i was exploring the various translations.

i have several friends that are quite taken with the Burton Watson translations... but, they seem dry and uninspired to me :) many beings with many capacities probably need a great variety of tools to find the one that works best for them.

an aside...

if you have an abiding interest in the Tao, i would strongly recommend another text and a lay practice manual.

the lay practice manual, of which i've excerpted a few bits from, is called the Secret of the Golden Flower and is a lay Ch'an Buddhist/Taoist praxis manual. there are two translations that you can find, one by a German named Wilhelm, which you should not get, and one by Cleary, which you should definiately get.

you could get the Wilhelm one, later, so that you can confirm Clearys conclusions regarding Wilhelm and, subsequently, Jungs' mis-understandings and attempts to practice the Golden Flower technique.

the other text is called Awakening to the Tao by Liu I-ming. there is, in my view, hardly a more direct explanation of the Northern Complete Reality school of Taoist Alchemical praxis in existence.
Thank you for the reply. That does make a lot of sense.

As for the two titles you mentioned, thank you. Be checking my local book store or ordering online soon.
There are many translations of Doe Dug Ging / Tao De Jing, but it is said that they are not accurate?
Tis the issue with prophetic spiritual poetry me thinks.

The translator trying to stay true to the message and leave a poetic contemplative feeling.

The original text not being straightforward but varying, evolving based on the reader...

The translator is also a reader and his/her experiences and interpretation are left in the interpretation....but the goal is to keep the interpretation open for the next reader.

All quite complicated...but both appear to have done well in their attempt, as I can hear similar source material from both.

Both a conundrum and beauty in it yes?

Can you imagine the hours they spent struggling for words and phraseology? What a task.

I've read several and of those, for me, the best balance of lucidity and poetic language is that by Ray Grigg, called The New Lao Tzu.

In my personal library I have twelve translations of the Tao Teh Ching. I read through them all and still find each of them as essential to my study. I am poor in that I only have four translations of the "I Ching" and but two translations of "The Art of War." I am seeking to add more translations to the increase the breadth of my library.

From the Western (USA) perspective that I have the Ancient Chinese Culture is a difficult one to understand nor is it a matter of a mere language barrier that adds to the confusion. Yet, with time and discussion, more is revealed as the Tao is an experiential concept.

From a lesson in Zen, the spoken Tao can be equated to the reflection of the moon upon the surface of a still pond. We see the reflection but the reflection of the moon is not the moon itself.

From a lesson in computer programming and pointers, the pointer to the object is not the object itself nor is it a copy of the object, itis a place holder that contains (points to) the address of the object.

The previous two examples may be seen as partial explanations of the first portion of the first chapter of the Tao Teh Ching. As Legge indicated it is not sufficient to have a verbatim translation of the characters and/or words, the essence and or spirit needs also to be taken into account. This is similar to the difficulty in explaining the meaning a local colloquialism to some one who "aint from around these-here parts."

And so, in summation of an overlong post, there are or will be as many translations of the Tao Teh Ching, and its spelling, as there will be.:rolleyes:

BTW the DC Lau translation of the Tao Teh Ching is a must have for reference, IMHO.
I just bought a "Skylight Illuminations" version of Tao Te Ching, translated and annotated by: Derek Lin, with Forward by: Lama Surya Das.

Anyone know this edition ?
SG, thanks, the version I just bought has opposing face commentary. I will give you some examples, if I find any that are noteworthy. :)
SG, thanks, the version I just bought has opposing face commentary. I will give you some examples, if I find any that are noteworthy. :)

Here is an example, related to leadership, which I like:

Have much and be confused
Therefore the sages hold to the one as an example for the world
Without flaunting themselves - and so are seen clearly

And the analysis by Derek Lin:

This line highlights an interesting paradox. Sages have no wish to show off or be highly visible in any way. This makes them unique in a world where most people love to draw attention to themselves. Ironically, their uniqueness makes them conspicuous.
I have recently discovered the Tao Te Ching through, of all people, Wayne Dyer. He has a book out on it ("Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao") where he took ten of the translations and wrote his own interpretive essays on each verse. Many of the authors and translators y'all have mentioned were used by Dyer.

Now, I'm a slow reader and have only read the first verse and subsequent essays. That little bit alone has already moved me. I can't say how long it will be before I finish (reading two other books at the moment, including the brilliant "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson) but I do look forward to seeing its impact on my life. That said, how has it affected y'all's lives, either directly or indirectly?

One other thing: other than the first word ("Dao") how is "Tao Te Ching" pronounced? I like to know when I'm reading along, and Dyer only mentioned it for the first word...

The first version tries to somehow preserve the original voice of the text. The second version is like those alleged "translations" of the Lord's Prayer from (modern) Aramaic that are more about putting an ancient ribbon around the translator's own doctrines.