Dabbling In Tao

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).

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