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Clif's Book World

Adventures from reading books captured within short reviews.

Lao Tsu: Tao Te Ching - Laozi, Gia-Fu Feng, Jane English This book deserves respect because of its antiquity (6th Century B.C). But frankly, I found it to be less than exciting to read. It's a collection of aphorism purposely constructed to be ambiguous (e.g. He who knows the Dao, does not know the Dao). It's a form of poetry where the combination of words are intended to communicate more than the words alone. Unfortunately, the subtlety and nuances in the original writing is partly hidden by the translation to English plus the gulf that exists between ancient classical Chinese and modern Mandarin Chinese.

We discussed this book at our April 27, 2012 meeting of Great Books KC. One interesting thing we did was compare translations. They vary quite a bit, and I found the ones that took the most liberty in their translating to be the most enjoyable. One member of the group had a book that listed each Chinese calligraphy symbol and provided multiple possible shades of translation for each. Each symbol had about six meanings, which means a non-Chinese reader would be able to make their own unique translation.

Tao Te Ching is pronounced dao de jing and can be translated as "Way/Path, Power/Virtue, Classic/Canon." A friend of mine told me that the word "dao" (way/path) is used in the Chinese translation of the New Testament at the beginning of the Gospel of John as a translation for "word/logos." Thus it reads, "In the beginning was the word (dao)." It's obvious to me that both writers were trying to use spoken words to express ineffability--the indescribable that existed prior to time, space and matter. The text is fundamental to Philosophical Taoism which is be considered a religion by some, and it can fit well with Zen Buddhism and other religions as well.