on September 5, 2001
Regardless of the translation, the Tao Te Ching relaxes you. Then, you start comparing the different translations, and you get to panicking real fast. Pretty ironic. It's something the Tao itself would warn you against. Sharpen the blade too much, you lose the edge.
Still, as an American consumer, I want the real deal, whether I'm buying a cheeseburger or an ancient philosophy. If true words can't be spoken, and you're gonna go and speak 'em anyway, at least make 'em as true as you can. I mean, what does a guy have to do to get the meaning of life around here, learn Chinese?
Enter Jonathan Star. Based on my comparison to five others, Star's lawn jart lands smack in the middle. Isn't that what Taoism is about? Getting to the center? He also made sure this would be the LAST translation you'd ever need, by including a second, "verbatim" translation-- a list of the various possible English meanings of every single Chinese character. Don't like something about his answer? Check his math. That's truly definitive. There might be other translations that do that, but I've got a shelf full of ones that don't, and I'm glad to say my search is finally over. I'm giving this book a perfect score. It's a good place to start AND a good place to finish.
on April 19, 2010
I just bought Jonathan's Star's 2003 Edition of "Tao Te Ching - The Definitive Edition" (ISBN-13: 978-1585422692) and was checking Amazon to see what other people had thought about this book, so you can imagine that I was a little worried when I saw this newer edition that I might have bought an outdated version. On closer inspection though I realized that the 2008 edition only has 128 pages compared with 368 pages of the 2003 edition.
On reading the table of contents for both editions I discovered that what Star's publishers appear to have done is to reissue the translation section of his original 2003 book without all the extra and very helpful information he had provided in the early edition.
My advice is to go and check out the 2003 edition before you commit to this later, less definitive, work.
Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition (2003)
on February 10, 2004
I know two things: 1) There is no such thing as a perfect translation of the Tao Te Ching. The Chinese language is so completely different from English, that any translation of the Tao is going to be somewhat flawed, no matter how skillful the translator. 2) All serious spiritual seekers must read the Tao Te Ching. If possible, they should own at least three translations.
This translation is excellent and is a personal favorite of mine. I give it "five stars" for integrity. Addiss and Lombardo explain, in their four page Introduction, the philosophy of how they translated the text and why it might be different from previous English translations. Indeed, they begin the Introduction as follows "There are already more than one hundred translations of the Tao Te Ching into English. Why should this text be translated again?" Then they proceed with a very persuasive case for this translation. For example, they have tried to "recreate much of the terse diction and staccato rhythm of the ancient Chinese" while other translations tend to be verbose. Also, they have specifically avoided any use of the gender specific pronouns, "he" and "she." Thus rendering the text neither politically correct nor politically incorrect.
Beyond the translation itself, this book is beautifully designed, with extensive use of Chinese calligraphy, art, and characters. This almost gives the impression of having an original copy of the Tao Te Ching in your hand.
If you want to read the Tao Te Ching, this is a great version. Three other good translations include those by Victor Mair, D.C. Lau, and John C. H. Wu. Personally I do not like the popular version by Stephen Mitchell, or the Gia-fu Feng & Jane English translation. They try too hard to be modern -- but who can fault them for trying? Just don't take them as the last word. But I do like another, very quirky, modern English version by Witter Bynner, which is rendered as rhyming poetry. So there is a lot of Tao variety out there.
Personally, I will never be without this Addiss/Lombardo version, or Victor Mair, or John Wu. Between these three, I can usually get a good feel for the original.
on March 25, 2004
One of the core ideas in Taoism (especially if you read a lot of Chuang-Tzu) is that there are infinite perspectives on anything and everything, and no one is more absolute or "correct" than the others. I think it's safe to say that the Tao Te Ching itself is an excellent example of this principle - just look at how many translations have been done, in various styles, approaching various perspectives on life, society, money, etc. And while there are certainly translations that speak to me far better than others do, I'd have to say that they are not always completely satisfying.
If you feel the same way, then Jonathan Star has come to your rescue with /Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition/. It starts out with an overview of Lao Tzu's work and the challenges that come with translating it. Then there is a rather good literary translation by the author, which sometimes takes a bit of artistic license - definitely not a bad thing. This is not the meat of the book, however. That part is the "definitive" translation itself - the literal translation. Every character of every chapter is provided, along with multiple possible meanings. Using this, you can compose your own interpretations of your favorite chapters, or the whole book if you wish.
The literal translation is extremely well done, and provided in a very accessible format that provides a lot of information in an easy to use manner. If I had to pick something to gripe about, it would be the fact that the literal translation uses Wade-Giles instead of Pinyin (this from a book with a 2001 copyright). I suppose this was to keep things consistent with the similarly old-style spellings "Tao", "Lao-Tzu", etc. This niggle is mitigated a bit by the concordance section of the book, which includes translations from Wade-Giles to Pinyin. Not very convenient, but then again you probably won't be reading the literal translation for its phonetic qualities anyway. Like I said, that's basically the only gripe I can come up with.
Other juicy bits in the book: a section devoted totally to the different interpretations of the first chapter over the years, a summary of the many meanings used for each character throughout the Tao Te Ching, and a nice commentary on chapter one courtesy of Jonathan Star.
If you want to explore the Tao Te Ching as it speaks to *you* then this is definitely a book you want in your collection. As good a job as Jane English, Le Guin, et al have done with their respective translations, nothing can compare to the one that comes from your own spirit and heart. Thus, this truly is the definitive Tao Te Ching. Highly, HIGHLY recommended.
on July 24, 2005
I love the Tao Te Ching. I have twelve different translations of it. It didn't take long to realize that what I found particularly insightful or wonderful in one translation might not be even close to what is said in another translation. So, I thought, many times, what the heck is the actual text behind these English versions? What does it say? Partly, that's just the nature of Chinese language. "tao ko tao fei ch'ang tao" (the opening sentence) can have a multitude of meanings. So one day, browsing in a bookstore like a Tao-junkie, I spy "The Definitive Edition" and have to look inside. Wonder of wonders, it's all laid out. A Chinese word by word translation giving the varied possible English equivalents alongside each character. Jonathan Star explores the full range of meaning for each Chinese character, allowing you to hone and clarify any translation of the Tao Te Ching for yourself and come to terms with the full depth and range of meaning as never before. In addition to his own excellent translation - one of the best - Star provides a number of language tools: roots and radicals, comments on key terms, notations of the textual variants from different manuscripts, etc. Books like this are not cheap to produce or buy. Eventually, it drew me back in and I bought it and have been very happy I did.
Star's own translation is flowing and beautiful, though not word-for-word unadorned,like, say Red Pine's. There are phrases in Star's translation that don't even appear in the Chinese text, but he does this intelligently and purposefully, illuminating the nuances of meaning of the text. Star draws a lot from other languages and teaching (especially Sanskrit and great teachers from India) in his comments about the meanings of key concepts. A purist may object to this; I weigh each on its own merit and found them complimentary.
on December 19, 2009
As someone who is new to Eastern philosophy, this book is an accessible, and poetic take on the TTC. I've compared to other editions and the translations vary tremendously not just in style but in use of metaphor, word choice, and cadence. With an ancient text written in a non-wetern tongue, it's difficult for a neophyte to know if you're getting the straight dope.
That being said, it's a beautiful work, and I've found tremendous insight and meaning in it. I would guess that the translation is geared toward contemporary westerners, as opposed academics, and like any work of philosophy or religious thought, it's important to take it with a grain of salt, and consider that it was written for an ancient world. That aside, it's still an essential read that touches on countless human truths. The deceptively simple passages of the TTC can have a profound influence on the way one looks at one's world.
Personally, I feel slightly more at peace, more understanding of the ebbs and flows of life, and from that stronger and more clear-headed, every time I read from this book. One thing the eastern traditions of Taoism and Buddhism seem to stress is seeing the truth for what it is, not believing in signs and symbols, or what you think you know or what you have been telling yourself, and this book illuminates that notion. In a media-saturated society oozing deceptive advertising and political punditry, it's great meditate on reality once in a while.
on August 12, 2003
For students and lovers of Lao Tzu's timeless poems of insight, gentle humor, and guidance in living a truly human life on both the inner and outer planes of being, Jonathan Star's translation must be considered essential. It is a marvelous work of research, scholarship, and truly creative presentation: he offers the first verbatim translation since Paul Carus' turn of the century (20th, that is) offering, using spreadsheet-style table to organize ideograms, lines, radicals, and translational possibilities. A marvelous essay on the first poem in the traditional ordering (Star uses the Wang Bi version and not the Ma Wang-Tui texts) is appended at the back of the book, along with an excellent lexicon. Best of all, Star offers us his own literary translation, which is worth the cost of the book all by itself: it has some breathtakingly beautiful points and is always a reflection not of a mere scholar but of a true lover of the Tao. This book is about $... in hardcover and will repay you exponentially for that small investment. And if you wish, you can even create your own translation of Lao Tzu with the help of this book--I did, and I recommend it as an excellent psychospiritual adventure.
on June 24, 2008
At a superficial level, this book looks amazing; introductory notes, translation, verbatim translation, notes on the translations, a long commentary on the first verse, and a collection of early translations of the first verse.
After reading the introductory notes, I was looking forward to what promised to be a very beautiful and insightful translation. Unfortunately, I found this translation to be contradictory at times (as opposed to paradoxical; there is a difference!) and, quite frankly, dull. Most of the notes on the translation and commentary on Verse One seemed to push an alternative view to Tao as being the consciousness behind all human beings which is consistent with Hindu religion, NOT a Taoist philosophy. Indeed, the vast majority of the "notes" in this book are quotes taken from Hindu texts such as Bhagavad Gita, and rather than noting, for example, interesting parallels between the two, Star seems to suggest that Tao Te Ching supports the other texts, which is similar to how Blakney seemed to use his translation to support the Christian faith. Personally, I don't think this is appropriate.
As for the positives, this book is definitely value for money. It is nicely printed, and contains a large verbatim translation of each character in Tao Te Ching. While it would be foolish to think you could interpret your own meanings based on this system (as the blurb claims), it still is quite interesting to get an insight into how the various translations of Tao Te Ching may have developed. Unfortunately (for me anyway, although a lot of people seem to really dig this translation) the bad points outweigh the positives, and, to be honest, if this was the first translation of Tao Te Ching I had read, I would have been turned off.
on December 17, 2004
What began as a recording of simple lessons to better live and understand life spawned a religious and philosophical movement that endured 2,000 years of war and strife in China, and continues to make its effect on the world today. The Tao Te Ching is the basis for the combination philosophy/religion known as Taoism, which has over 30 million followers worldwide.
Before I start my review on this particular translation, let me point out that regardless of religious background or belief, the Tao Te Ching is an excellent read for ANYONE. I myself am a Christian, yet the teachings of Lao Tze (or whatever other scholars contributed to the text) have enriched my life and given me added peace and comfort. Regardless if you're a follower of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, or (obviously) Taoism, the Tao Te Ching is one of the most philosophically rich works in history. Keep an open mind and there is much the Tao Te Ching can teach you. There's a reason it's second only to the Bible in the number of times it's been translated into different languages.
Part of the difficulty of translating a Chinese text like the Tao Te Ching is that the Chinese language is so much different from other languages, particularly English. While English by comparison is very specific and literal, the characters of Chinese language are more open to definition, allowing the readers to make their own interpretations. Fittingly, the lessons of the Tao Te Ching are similar in nature: each person's view of it and what it means will be different. There is no right or wrong way to practice or integrate Taoism into life, which is part of the beauty of the philosophy.
That's why this translation of the Tao Te Ching offers a separate section with all the meanings of the Chinese characters. It works best if you choose the words you think are right, and then record them on a computer or a piece of paper. That way, you can create your own original translation, if you're willing to do the work. This is just one of the great things about Jonathan Star's edition of the Tao Te Ching.
Star also offers his own unique translation, for those not dedicated enough to use the separate section. The last decent translation of the TTC that I read was the Ganson translation I got off the Internet. Star's translation completely blows it out of the water. The words are perfect. They're not too simple, they're not too complicated. They're just...right. And that's a central principle about Taoism: not resorting to extremes and just getting things right.
There's also a separate section for notes on the different verses, and an entirely separate section just for verse one. If you're looking for the truly definitive Tao Te Ching translation, this is it!
on January 9, 2006
Indeed this is a very nice edition of a very nice book. It helps the many of us who, bewildered by the differences between translations, try to find the real one. And it helps close the language gap.
But, mind you, I don`t think this is what a serious scholar would call definitive. The multiple meanings of a word are in its context and in the other contexts in which such a word is found. It comes from use and cannot be completely explained by a list of possible english equivalents. This is even more coplex (not simple) in an ideographic text like Chinese. The "do-it-yourself" approach is nice to play with, but for a serious study of the Tao Te Ching, you'll need additional support.
A definitive edition would have each line of each paragraph commented with relevant examples of the vocabulary used in other contexts, references to phylosophical concepts, and comparison between other translations (e.g. see Edward Conze's translation of the Heart Sutra). A true definitive edition, of course, would have to include a complete course in Chinese language, culture, and history.
But for the hurried american consumer, yes, I guess this will do.