Heaven is ancient
Earth is long-lasting
Why is this so
Because they have no claims of life
By having no claims of life
they cannot be claimed by death
The Sage puts his own views behind
so ends up ahead
He stays a witness to life
so he endures
What could he grab for
that he does not already have?
What could he do for himself
that the universe itself has not already done?
—Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching
Yesterday, I picked up a copy of the Tao Te Ching, translated by Jonathan Star. I found out about the Tao Te Ching a few days ago, and on perusing through a few verses I was immediately drawn to the ideas of balance and existence. It’s almost as if I’ve already been living by the teachings of the manuscript, without ever having actually seen or read the text. My own personal lifetime goals are extremely similar to what Lao Tzu held as the proper way of life. This could possibly be the most significant finding in my life, although that would depend on how I accept these teachings.
One of the fundamental problems of translating the Tao Te Ching is the fact that Lao Tzu was a very cryptic writer, so the many meanings that a Chinese symbol can have creates a need for interpretation. I searched through Chapters for a suitable translation by reading the different interpretations of the same verse. I was surprised to see how differently each translator sees the same set of Chinese characters. I find that an appropriate translation generally requires assent with the worldview of the translator. The book by Jonathan Star has his own translation, which I find to be nice and clear, but also a verbatim translation so that one can interpret the manuscript in their own way. Jonathan Star also has his own commentary on the first verse, which I’m able to consult if I want a second opinion (or a third opinion, as he draws on the translations of others in his commentary as well).