In this way, the Laozi is seen to offer a comprehensive guide to order and harmony at all levels. Although it is mentioned in catalogues of Daoist works, there was no real knowledge of it until a copy was discovered among the Dunhuang manuscripts S. The manuscript copy, now housed in the British Library, was probably made around C. The original text, disagreement among scholars notwithstanding, is generally traced to around C. A detailed study and translation of the work in English is now available Bokenkamp This underscores the central thesis of the commentary, that devotion to the Dao in terms of self-cultivation and compliance with its precepts would assure boundless blessing in this life and beyond.
Spiritual discipline, however, is insufficient; equally important is the accumulation of moral merit. These include general positive steps such as being tranquil and yielding, as well as specific injunctions against envy, killing, and other morally reprehensible acts. The word xuan denotes literally a shade of dark red and is used in the Laozi esp. Alarmed by what they saw as the decline of Dao, influential intellectuals of the day initiated a sweeping reinterpretation of the classical heritage. Wang Bi, despite his short life, distinguished himself as a brilliant interpreter of the Laozi and the Yijing see A.
Rather, Wang seems more concerned with what may be called the logic of creation. The ground of being, however, cannot be itself a being; otherwise, infinite regress would render the logic of the Laozi suspect. We will come back to this point later. The transcendence of Dao must not be compromised.
Nonaction helps explain the practical meaning of naturalness. In ethical terms, Wang Bi takes nonaction to mean freedom from the dictates of desire. This defines not only the goal of self-cultivation but also that of government. The concepts of naturalness and nonaction will be discussed further below. The authority of the Heshanggong commentary can be traced to its place in the Daoist religion, where it ranks second only to the Daodejing itself. From the Tang period, one begins to find serious attempts to collect and classify the growing number of Laozi commentaries.
An early pioneer is the eighth-century Daoist master Zhang Junxiang, who cited some thirty commentaries in his study of the Daodejing Wang Du Guangting — provided a larger collection, involving some sixty commentaries Daode zhenjing guangshengyi , Daozang no. According to Du, there were those who saw the Laozi as a political text, while others focused on spiritual self-cultivation. There were Buddhist interpreters e. This latter represents an important development in the history of interpretation of the Daodejing Assandri Daoist sources relate that the school goes back to the fourth-century master Sun Deng.
Through Gu Huan fifth century and others, the school reached its height during the Tang period, represented by such thinkers as Cheng Xuanying and Li Rong in the seventh century. The Laozi has been viewed in still other ways. The diversity of interpretation is truly remarkable see Robinet for a typological analysis. The Daodejing was given considerable imperial attention, with no fewer than eight emperors having composed or at least commissioned a commentary on the work.
By the thirteenth century, students of the Daodejing were already blessed, as it were, with an embarrassment of riches, so much so that Du Daojian — could not but observe that the coming of the Dao to the world takes on a different form each time. Is the Laozi a manual of self-cultivation and government?
Is it a metaphysical treatise, or does it harbor deep mystical insights? Chapter 1 of the current Laozi begins with the famous words: The Laozi is a difficult text. Its language is often cryptic; the sense or reference of the many symbols it employs remains unclear, and there seems to be conceptual inconsistencies. Traditionally, however, this was never a serious option. Consider, first of all, some of the main modern approaches to the Daodejing cf.
One view is that the Laozi reflects a deep mythological consciousness at its core. Chapter 25, for example, likens the Dao to an undifferentiated oneness. The myth of a great mother earth goddess may also have informed the worldview of the Laozi Erkes ; Chen , which explains its emphasis on nature and the feminine Chen A second view is that the Laozi gives voice to a profound mysticism.
According to Victor Mair , it is indebted to Indian mysticism see also Waley According to Benjamin Schwartz , the mysticism of the Daodejing is sui generis , uniquely Chinese and has nothing to do with India. Indeed, as one scholar suggests, it is unlike other mystical writings in that ecstatic vision does not play a role in the ascent of the Daoist sage Welch , It is possible to combine the mystical and mythological approaches. Broadly, one could carve out a third category of interpretations that highlights the religious significance of the Laozi , whether in general terms or aligned with the tenets of religious Daoism.
A fourth view sees the Laozi mainly as a work of philosophy, which gives a metaphysical account of reality and insight into Daoist self-cultivation and government; but fundamentally it is not a work of mysticism W. The strong practical interest of the Laozi distinguishes it from any mystical doctrine that eschews worldly involvement.
Fifth, to many readers the Laozi offers essentially a philosophy of life.
Remnants of an older religious thinking may have found their way into the text, but they have been transformed into a naturalistic philosophy. The emphasis on naturalness translates into a way of life characterized by simplicity, calmness, and freedom from the tyranny of desire e. Sixth, the Laozi is above all concerned with realizing peace and sociopolitical order. It is an ethical and political masterpiece intended for the ruling class, with concrete strategic suggestions aimed at remedying the moral and political turmoil engulfing late Zhou China.
Self-cultivation is important, but the ultimate goal extends beyond personal fulfillment Lau , LaFargue , Moeller The Laozi criticizes the Confucian school not only for being ineffectual in restoring order but more damagingly as a culprit in worsening the ills of society at that time. This list is far from exhaustive; there are other views of the Laozi. Different combinations are also possible. Graham, for example, emphasizes both the mystical and political elements, arguing that the Laozi was probably targeted at the ruler of a small state , The Laozi could be seen as encompassing all of the above—such categories as the metaphysical, ethical, political, mystical, and religious form a unified whole in Daoist thinking and are deemed separate and distinct only in modern Western thought.
This concerns not only the difficulty of the Laozi but also the interplay between reader and text in any act of interpretation. But, it is important to emphasize, it does not follow that context is unimportant, that parameters do not exist, or that there are no checks against particular interpretations. While hermeneutic reconstruction remains an open process, it cannot disregard the rules of evidence.
Questions of provenance, textual variants, as well as the entire tradition of commentaries and modern scholarship are important for this reason. And it is for this same reason that the present article leaves the discussion of the Laozi itself till the end. The following presents some of the main concepts and symbols in the Laozi based on the current text, focusing on the key conceptual cluster of Dao, de virtue , ziran naturalness , and wuwei nonaction.
I propose that the two readings represented by the Heshanggong and Wang Bi commentaries both bring out important insight from the Laozi. To begin with Dao, the etymology of the Chinese graph or character suggests a pathway, or heading in a certain direction along a path.
This is also how most commentators in traditional China have understood it: The concept of dao is not unique to the Laozi. A key term in the philosophical vocabulary, it informs early Chinese philosophy as a whole. It is interpreted differently, signifying a means to a higher end in some writings and as an end in itself in others. The Laozi underscores both the ineffability and creative power of Dao. This is distinctive and if one accepts the early provenance of the text, charts a new course in the development of Chinese philosophy. The ineffability of Dao is highlighted in chapter 1: This suggests a sense of radical transcendence, which explains why the Laozi has been approached so often as a mystical text.
Names serve to delimit, to set boundaries; in contrast, Dao is without limits and therefore cannot be captured fully by language. This suggests a positive dimension to transcendence, which brings into view the creative power of Dao: What does this mean? Daoist creation involves a process of differentiation from unity to multiplicity: This is essentially the reading of the Heshanggong commentary. Although the Laozi may not have entertained a fully developed yin-yang cosmological theory, which took shape during the Han period, it does suggest at one point that natural phenomena are constituted by yin and yang: That which gave rise to the original qi -energy, however, is indescribable.
Alternatively, one could argue that Dao signifies a conceptually necessary ontological ground; it does not refer to any indescribable original substance or energy. As the source of being, Dao cannot be itself a being, no matter how powerful or perfect; otherwise, the problem of infinite regress cannot be overcome. For the latter, Dao is entirely conceptual, whereas the former envisages the Dao as referring to a mysterious substance or energy that brings about the cosmos and continues to sustain and regulate it.
The latter may be awkward, but it serves to alert the reader that the nothingness or emptiness of Dao may not be understood referentially or reduced simply to the fullness of qi. In light of the interest in cosmology during the Warring States period, the cosmological reading may be privileged, but the Laozi is also open to an ontological interpretation. Both are philosophically potent. At one level, the ontological reading may accommodate the qi -based yin-yang cosmology, although there is significant divergence in the interpretation of the ethics of the Laozi , as we shall see in the next section.
It also suggests a direction to be followed, which brings out the ethical interest of the Laozi. The Daodejing is concerned with both Dao and de. The graph de has also made it into the Oxford English Dictionary: Like Dao, de is a general concept open to diverse interpretation. The Confucian understanding of de is by no means uniform A. Confucius may have emphasized the latter, but there is ample evidence in the Analects and other Confucian works testifying to the importance of the former as well.
The different translations mentioned above aim at bringing out the perceived uniquely Daoist understanding of de. From this perspective, both Laozi and Confucius are interpreters of de -virtue. The marriage of Dao and de effectively bridges the gap between transcendence and immanence. In this sense, the Laozi speaks of de as that which nourishes all beings e. Within these parameters, interpretations of de follow from the understanding of Dao and wu.
In either case, the concept of de emerges as a Daoist response to the question of human nature, which was one of the most contested issues in early Chinese philosophy. The two readings of the Laozi , despite their differences, agree that it is an inherent de that enables a person to conform to the way in which Dao operates. In a cosmological reading, this suggests an understanding of nature as governed by the operation of qi energies in an ideal yin-yang system characterized by harmony and fecundity.
Nature in the Daoist sense, it is important to note, need not exclude the spiritual and the social. The existence of gods and spirits, which can be understood also as being constituted by qi energies, was hardly questioned in early China. The Laozi makes clear that they, too, stem from Dao and form a part of the order of ziran e.
Further, nature encompasses not only natural phenomena but also sociopolitical institutions. The king clearly occupies a central place in the realm of Dao chs. As an ethical concept, ziran thus extends beyond the personal to the sociopolitical level. Wuwei does not mean total inaction. In the Laozi , while meditation and other forms of spiritual practice may be envisaged, the concept of wuwei seems to be used more broadly as a contrast against any form of action characterized by self-serving desire e.
It is useful to recall the late Zhou context, where disorder marched on every front. The Laozi , one assumes, is not indifferent to the forces of disintegration tearing the country asunder, although the remedy it proposes is subject to interpretation. The problems of political decline are traced to excessive desire, a violation of ziran.
Naturalness encompasses basic human needs, of course, but these are to be distinguished from desire that fuels and inflates self-gratification, which knows no end. Nonaction entails at the personal level simplicity and quietude, which naturally follow from having few desires. At the political level, the Laozi condemns aggressive measures such as war ch. If the ruler could rid himself of desire, the Laozi boldly declares, the world would be at peace of its own accord chs.
In this sense, the Laozi describes the ideal sage-ruler as someone who understands and follows ziran e. In this same sense, it also opposes the Confucian program of benevolent intervention, which as the Laozi understands it, addresses at best the symptoms but not the root cause of the disease.
The Confucian project is in fact symptomatic of the decline of the rule of Dao. Conscious efforts at cultivating moral virtues only accentuate the loss of natural goodness, which in its original state would have been entirely commonplace and would not have warranted distinction or special attention chs.
Worse, Confucian ethics assumes that learning and moral self-cultivation can bring about personal and social improvement. The concept of nonaction is exceedingly rich. It brings into play a cutting discernment that value distinctions are ideological, that human striving and competitive strife spring from the same source.
Nonaction entails also a critique of language and conventional knowledge, which to the Daoist sage has become impregnated with ideological contaminants. The use of paradoxes in the Laozi especially heightens this point. Some scholars would object that this interpretation misses the religious import of the Daodejing , while others would question whether it is too eager to defend the philosophical coherence of the classic.
Perhaps the Laozi in chapter 65 of the current text did mean to tell the ruler literally to keep the people ignorant or stupid for better control, which as a piece of political advice is not exactly extraordinary. The remarks offered here take nonaction as central to the Daoist view of life, recognizing that the concept of wuwei does not only initiate a critique of value but also points to a higher mode of knowledge, action, and being.
At the critical level, the Laozi emphasizes the relativity of knowledge and value. Things appear big or small, for example, only in relation to other things; knowledge and ignorance are meaningful only in relation to each other. Good and bad, being and nonbeing, and other opposites should be understood in the same light ch. Distinctions as such are not necessarily problematic; for example, an object can be described as rare or difficult to find as compared with other objects. When certain things or features e. The recognition of the relativity of value does not end in a kind of moral relativism or ethical paralysis.
The deconstruction of conventional beliefs and values opens the door to deeper reflection on the order of ziran. The Laozi also does not appear to be advocating the obliteration of all distinctions, and by extension civilization as a whole, in a state of mystical oneness. For example, while there is some concern that technology may bring a false sense of progress, the antidote does not lie in a deliberate rejection of technology but rather in a life of natural simplicity and contentment that stems from having few desires ch.
In this way, the apparent conceptual inconsistency in the Laozi can be resolved. This constitutes a radical critique of a world given to the pursuit of wealth and power. Desire is a complex concept. Fundamentally, it depicts the movement of the mind as it is drawn to things it finds agreeable e.
Development was stimulated by rivalry with Buddhism with which it shares a number of core beliefs. The story of Laozi occupies a cherished place in the Daoist tradition. Up, down, up, down. In terms of wording, the Beida Laozi agrees with the Mawangdui manuscripts in many instances, although in some places it agrees rather with that of the received text. Roused by something outside himself, only then does he respond; pressed, only then does he move; finding he has no choice, only then does he rise up.
Phenomenologically, the mind is always in motion. Calmness or tranquility of mind does not mean the cessation of all cognitive or affective movement. Rather, from this perspective, it is the act of desiring that transgresses the order of nature, resulting in a plethora of desires pulling the mind in different directions, that is seen to be at the heart of the problem. Nonaction contrasts sharply, according to the Laozi , with the way people typically act in a world in which the rule of Dao no longer prevails, with profit motives, calculated steps, expectations, longings, regrets, and other expressions of desire.
As a philosophical concept, wuwei intimates a mode of being that governs existential engagement at all levels, transforming the way in which we think, feel, and experience the world. It does not stipulate what one ought to do or ought not to do in particular cases. Terms such as quietude, emptiness, and simplicity favored by the Laozi describe a general ethical orientation rather than specific practices.
Although in following wuwei there are things that a person of Dao naturally would not do e. Again, nonaction need not exclude spiritual practice—ethics and spirituality generally form an integral whole in the Daoist frame—rather, the point is that once realized, the transformative power of nonaction would ensure not only personal fulfillment but also sociopolitical order. This seems to weigh against a strictly mystical reading of the Laozi , if mysticism is understood to entail a kind of personal union with the Dao transcending all political interests.
The ethics of wuwei rests on this insight. To elaborate, wuwei as an ethical-spiritual ideal entails that the man of Dao, the sage, would be free from the disquieting movement of desire. This would naturally find expression in a mode of being and action characterized by not doing certain things e. This is different from the argument that wuwei prescribes not doing or doing less of certain things, if such prescription requires deliberate effort.
As a guide to recovering or attaining that ideal, there may be room for the ruler to impose conditions that would lead to a diminishing of desire-driven action; but this is not quite ideal wuwei. Similarly, although it may be said that nonaction points to a state of mind in which one does everything that one does, it is on the understanding that in that ideal state certain actions simply would not occur as a matter of course, as the mind would not be aroused and move in their direction. For example, to argue that there is a qualitatively different wuwei way of stealing or gambling would not be meaningful in the world of the Laozi , because such action would not arise in the ideal realm of naturalness.
To elaborate further, consider the ideal ethical situation in the cosmological reading of the Laozi as represented by the Heshanggong commentary. The dispensation of qi gives rise to a pristine hierarchical order in which those who are blessed with a perfect qi endowment, the rare sages, would govern the majority. It can be assumed that the sages are naturally predisposed to quietude, whereas the common people are driven by desire in varying degree. Indeed, at one point, the Laozi seems to distinguish three different grades of human beings ch.
They are intended to give pause for thought and contemplation, a mission they have most ably served through the centuries. Over the first few centuries other tales were added to the book by various authors as an anonymous homage. As they are written in his style it has proven impossible to tease out exact authorship. To give a taste for Daoist philosophy this section explores this idea in some detail.
Like many Daoist tenets there is a paradox embedded in the idea of inaction. It is not intended that nobody does anything, it is more like doing nothing that is not natural to do. It's an attractive notion. In an ideal world governments would govern by inaction. This is because everyone would know what to do - they just get on with it - there is no need for anyone to intervene. A boss does not need to goad people into useful work, it all happens naturally.
This approach to government was tried out by the Qi Kingdom Shandong c. Like many Daoist beliefs it is rooted in the natural world. Nature was seen as being able to get along quite nicely without being managed - plants intrinsically knows how to flourish and water how to flow. Here subservience and respect ensures the government runs well. To the Daoist, however, wu wei is an individualist notion - not as a cog in a larger machine.
In Chapter 3 there is guidance for governments not to interfere:. Harmony, health and contentment must be put above attempts of the government to manipulate the people into pointless efforts and worries. The notion of release from the slavery of desire in evident in chapter 37 and this is also central to Buddhist. In chapter 43 a frequent Daoist analogy of the ability of water to abrade and penetrate even the hardest rock with no apparent effort. The paradox of achieving things by doing nothing is again explored in chapter 64 where acting early when problems are still small, or else gradually starting a major undertaking gives the idea of effortless effort - great things are achieved with barely any action.
This can be thought of as a move towards empathic thinking. Things will get along just fine if we take the time to first fully understand the situation. Here there is a some metaphysics behind the notion. In Chapter 57 inaction is often allied to non-interference - a plea for free expression without shackles:. It continues with a strand presaging the Buddhist rejection of desires:. Daoists do not believe in a divine essence actively controlling the world or that people are naturally wholly good.
Instead it is a call to trust in their better natures rather than rely on imposed orders. It can also be interpreted as discouraging adventure and becoming inwardly content with one's lot. The time that the Dao de Jing was written is a subject of hot debate. Here the enlightened man sage does indeed intervene but to maintain the natural order when it is threatened.
The paradox of effortless effort is one that has been pondered upon by Daoist philosophers throughout the ages. In Chapter 3 there is guidance for governments not to interfere: He keeps them without knowledge or desire. Where there is inaction good order prevails. The image of a solitary sage walking alone among the mountains is a very common Daoist theme.
Here the sage leaves behind the world trees and a servant carrying a guqin along a path that leads to nothing but mist, exploring the unknown and unseen. How can you fall in love with a book whose actual words bore you? But that's what happened. If Mitchell had paid attention to even his version of the last chapter, 81, which reads: Instead, he decided that he'd rather cut entire paragraphs, rearrange the remaining words, and even alter the meaning to better suit his aesthetic values.
His disregard for accuracy and his preference for his concept of beauty over truth not only shows a complete lack of respect for the text, the tradition and its culture of origin; it's also just not scholarly. Another interesting admission made by Mitchell is that he spent only four months writing this version. So, obviously, I was getting more focused, or more efficient The vast difference in time spent translating Job and rewriting the Tao Te Ching instead tells me that he worked very hard to faithfully render the former and just cobbled together the latter.
Mitchell actually reads and understands Hebrew, so it's likely that he was aware of the nuances of the language and therefore understood the importance of accurately rendering the text into English. Mitchell doesn't read any Chinese. If the language is incomprehensible to him, how can he possibly grasp the nuances of the characters in order to accurately translate them for others? This isn't to say that his version is completely wrong. Many sections are fairly accurate like the line in Ch.
But there are also many places in his text that are inaccurate to the point of misconstruing the core concepts of the belief system. So if you're new to Taoism and are looking for a translation that accurately communicates Taoist beliefs and sensibilities, I suggest that you go somewhere else.
There are many other translations that more accurately render the Tao Te Ching in English. Each has its own particular "flavor" and may contain slightly different words or rhythms, but most aim to faithfully present an accurate translation of the text that, while not serving every culture's aesthetic requirements, is very beautiful in its own way and has a lot of wisdom to offer, regardless of cultural and generational differences in taste. Here's a good website to get you started: The site provides not only several different translations, but also the original Wang Bi text with translations of each character.
If, however, you're already familiar with the Tao Te Ching and other Taoist literature, Mitchell's book at least serves as a good example of Taoism's effect on contemporary American culture. View all 28 comments. This book's contents and history have both a sense of vagueness, but not in a bad way, in my opinion.
It's somewhat uncertain when it was written circa 4th-3rd century BC , the author's life details are largely invented, and the existence of the author is not quite certain either Lao Tzu is just his title, and also it's not known if the text is by one author, or a group of authors worked over some years.
It was first translated in the late s, and the oldes existin review after rereading: It was first translated in the late s, and the oldes existing copy is from circa BC. It's a bit hard to categorise: But really, in my view any of those would do.
In a way it felt a bit like Dhammapada, which I've read earlier, in that even if you're not interested in the religion it's part of, it will still appeal, and is a pretty easy a read. I read it quite quickly now. Taoism is clearly put as an opposite way of thinking against Confucianism - which shows in some parts of this text - the latter being based on duties to the community and the family, but somewhat rigidly black and white at its hardest. Taoism is in its end less rigid, putting weight on the coexistence of the opposites, reverence of nature, flexibility and not being too controlling.
The Tao is a force in the world, not completely graspable or something one can give a finite meaning, but which balances our world. It is gentleness, avoiding conflict of grasping, seeking peacefulness, simplicity, detachment and humility. Making the point without engaging in rhetoric and arguments. The book's message is simple, the prose spare with plenty of natural imagery. The wisdom the Tao of the book is feminine, yin in balance with the yang while in Confucianism the yang seems sometimes bit heavily-leaned on.
The message seems simple, yet is deep. Quite a few sentences bounced out of the text as familiar, things I've seen quoted. Reading and rereading each page will most certainly happen for me in the future. The whole thing reads just like a beautiful ancient Chinese nature painting Such is this book. This was immensely interesting to read, though I found myself somewhat aggravated by the passivism that ran through the writing.
It's almost like a poetical treatise on humility, but what of ambition and a drive to make the world a better place?
Should we all accept our station in life and never aim to improve? It accepts things as they are however they are and cannot conceive of a better future. Everything should stay the same, and exist within the natural order of things. But ho This was immensely interesting to read, though I found myself somewhat aggravated by the passivism that ran through the writing. But how do we define the natural? VI The Spirit of the valley never dies This is called the mysterious female.
The gateway of the mysterious female Is called the route of heaven on earth. Dimly visible, it seems as if it were there, Yet use will never drain it. The poem speaks of mother nature as replenishing and everlasting; she will always endure and is the gateway to heaven on earth, to our own nirvana. We can never completely spend her. The metaphor is for the path as Taoism and nature are one and the same here.
For the speaker, Taoism or the way is the most natural of things we can partake in. We will also never drain the benefits of it and they will also last perpetually. And these ideas for me felt strong and real, but the writing also muses over empire. The Empire is a sacred vessel and nothing should be done to it. Whoever does anything to it will ruin it; whoever lays hold of it will lose it.
Hence some things lead and some follow; Some breath gently and some breathe hard; Some are strong and some are weak; Some destroy and some are destroyed. Therefore the sage avoids excess, extravagance and arrogance. I take so much issue with this quote. In what way can we ever refer to an Empire as natural? Empire's are always built with the blood of someone else. The quote also shows how people are all different, though it concludes that this is simply the way of things. A weak person should not try to make himself strong.
Such a thing is an excess. We should simply stay humble and never challenge the norms of an Empire. And that's when I stopped listening to what the book had to say. As an historical piece it's interesting to study, but I take absolutely no stock in the words. Sep 04, Farhan Khalid rated it really liked it. To grow, yet not to control: To understand the small is called clarity Knowing how to yield is called strength Those who know do not talk Those who talk do not know Act by not acting Do by not doing A journey of thousand miles starts with a single footstep If you rush into action, you will fail If you hold on too tight, you will lose your grip Compassion is the protector of Heaven's salvation I love this book of philosophy.
It gives great common sense and helps pave new thought patterns not taught in American culture, paths that lead to peace and sanity. My favorite book of philosophy.
Great translation, helped me understand it. Shows a path of peace, contentment and subtle, quiet, managable power. I found this quote Update: I found this quote in my notebook, the only one I wrote down. The reason why heaven and earth are able to endure and continue this long is because they do not live of, or for, themselves. This is how they are able to continue and endure. The quote has reminded me of the power of humility, and the deceptive and dichotomous nature of that power.
Humility clothes itself in rags of weakness and frailty but draws superhuman strength, and the Tao Te Ching calls this an empty vessel being filled with another power. I admire this amazing and deeply profound piece of religious literature. The philosophy coincides with my own faith. The book teaches, as already mentioned, the power of humility. It teaches the value of things considered meaningless, such as empty space.
We build houses, form rooms with four walls, but the basis of this structure lies upon the importance of the empty space. Empty space provides room to live, to breathe, to walk, to make love, to work. The power and mechanics of a wheel depend on the empty space. Thus, we consider worthless things, abased things, as meaningless.
We say we live life to the fullest when we have what we want, and when we lose it all, we have no meaning, no purpose, no life. The book attempts to explain this. The point of the argument concludes with something underlying the whole of existence. One constant, the Tao. I like to think of this, in my personal paradigm of faith, as God.
The Tao exists as the fundamental, underlying essence of the universe. Under all these events we also have a soul, eternal and unchanging in nature. The book changed my perspective. As I experience grief, the thoughts come: I see a Father who loves me, and plays baseball with me, fishes with me. The high, the low. Up, down, up, down. I see a beautiful lady with sea-blue eyes lying on my chest of happiness. See the beauty, the lesson. See the tenderness of a mother deer licking her baby.
See the lion chasing and biting the bleeding neck of her prey. The wonder, the blessing. The experiences only flow through a constant medium, us. I believe we exist in a timeless place called soul, and this place holds it all, the good and bad, in memories. I believe this God has a face and He wants to be seen. The author points out the paradox of softness. He refers to women as feminine, or weak, but then turns to say weakness stands stronger than strength, because strength depends on the weakness, as the walls depend on the space for meaning.
He says maturity is the end, the death, and Tao has no place with this. When we master something, it ends. A full-grown tree has only to be full-grown, and eventually wither. A new tree has begun to grow, and has a softness, and in this potential to grow, most of life abounds, because the process has just begun. My end becomes a new beginning, always, so long as air feeds oxygen into my lungs and body. View all 7 comments. This version of the Dao De Jing, translated by Richard John Lynn, is highly recommended to those who are not looking for the touchy feely Laozi.
Rather it is a translation for those interested in ancient Chinese thought. The Dao De Jing was probably written, by author or authors unknown, in the fourth century B. This version includes an interpretation of the text written by Wang Bi C. Both Wang Bi and the translator or this edition, Richard John Lynn, have maintained the original intent of the Dao De Jing in not bringing in any mystical or religious concepts, which by Wang Bi's time were part of the popular view of Daoism. In reading this version, I perceive more clearly than in most versions three strands of thought.
I acknowledge that this thing may be sliced in many other ways. See for example Michael Lafarge's quite good translation. The second strand is a guide to self cultivation, how to become a sage, and the third is an articulation of the basis for the other strands and everything else, 'the myriad of things' , the 'Tao' the nature of the universe. These strands are not kept discrete but are, rather, presented as a synthesis. As noted above, both Wang Bi and Lynn have avoided mystical language with the result that many of the terms with which readers of other translations are familiar are translated differently.
The effect of this is important in that "no action" suggests that the agent accomplishes ends by doing nothing, a mystical concept which captures the modern reader's imagination. The words "no conscious effort" suggests more of a lack of purpose. The ruler acts but not to his own ends but rather in accordance with the unfolding nature of the universe, the Tao.
To act out of the Tao is to act out of nothingness, as opposed to acting out of the myriad of things which will mislead and lead to disaster. Wang Bi begins his introduction to the work with "The way things come into existence and efficacy comes about is that things arise from the formless and efficacy emanates from the nameless. The formless and the nameless [Dao] is the progenitor of the myriad of things. I tend to view this as I do the concept of the "big bang' in popular physics. There is nothing there and then there is an explosion out of which all that exists emanates. The "Dao" is the ever expanding universe and everything that exists and happens within it.
This last bit is totally my own fabrication to put the concept into terms which I can grasp. It works for me for now. Thus, the Dao is conceived of as coming out of nothing and as ever changing. It cannot be named because it does not exist as a thing. It has no form or substance and is always becoming.
It cannot be known.