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Taoism: The Parting of the Way Paperback – June 1, 1971


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Beacon Press; Revised edition (June 1, 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807059730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807059739
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.5 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,967 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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Anyone new to Taoism would do well to start with this book.
Demitri Pevzner
Aside from many factual errors, nearly every page yields some interpretation that is patently absurd.
Erehwon
Mix this with his down-to-earth, conversational, and often amusing style and you get a winner!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Phil Myers on September 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
That Holmes Welch set himself a formidable task in offering a brief general introduction to Taoism is testified to by the lack of any other serviceable attempts on the part of Western writers to codify the vague, mystical, and powerful formulations of Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching.

Welch's short book contains 4 parts. In the first part, he explains that the ambiguous nature of the ancient Chinese characters, compounded by the oftent inscrutable and paradoxical writing style of Lao Tzu himself, makes definitive translation and interpretation of the text impossible.

In the second part, he offers his own informed and wise interpretation of the the Tao Te Ching, explicating three inter-related central concepts: (1)the doctrine of 'wu-wei' (spontaneity and non-interference in action), (2)the concept of 'pu' (original human nature (literally 'the uncarved block'), the way of the newborn child as an ideal counterposed to the adult corruption introduced by society), and (3)the mystical experience of the 'tao', or 'way' of the universe through meditation.

In the third part, Welch lays out the bizarre history of the development of Taoism since Lao Tzu, its intersections with other religions, and its devolution into arcane practices of asceticism, alchemy, hygiene, and geomancy.

In the final section, Welch offers a reading of the relevance of Lao Tzu's teachings to the present day (c. 1950s) that now seems pretty dated and hackneyed.

I recommend the first 2 parts as a valuable and illuminating companion text for anyone reading the Tao Te Ching.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ansel Schmidt on May 13, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Following Ursula LeGuin's suggestion, I bought this book when I wanted to dive deeper into Taoism than Wikipedia allows. Welch does an admirable job describing the different movements that claim the mantle, so as LeGuin says, it's an excellent introduction to Lao Tzu et al. and those who would be his followers. His history of the Taoist religions is thorough and carefully done, but his exploratory essays on philosophical Taoism are the reason this book is so good. Erudite and highly readable, they let me sink my teeth into the meat of Taoist thought within a few pages. Since Welch doesn't seem to have followed up on this book in any substantial way, I quickly found my way to Arthur Waley, whose unique perspective and towering scholarship rewards even an amateur and a dabbler like me, but even someone who's already read Waley's The Way and Its Power four times will find something original and thought-provoking in Welch's studies.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 5, 1998
Format: Paperback
Welsh gives a good introduction to Taoism. He writes about what he thinks it meant, and what it developed into over the centuries. It gets a little scholarly at times but nothing too unbearable.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D V McL on March 17, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me by an Asian scholar and, although not new, is hands down the best explanation of the Tao te ching and its author I've come across - I would say a vital accompaniment to any "translation."
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By P. Anderson on September 10, 2006
Format: Paperback
I have not found any book that discusses philosophical taoism and the Tao Te Ching as effectively as Mr. Welche's book.

The section on the development of Taoism as a religion can be taken as a cautionary tale on how a philosophical system can be (and often is) changed beyond recognition (and ruined) by turning it something that will be accepted by the masses.

The last page of the section on the Tao Te Ching that describes why philosphical taoism didn't succeed as a religion because of its ambiguity, darkness and uncertainty hit the nail on the head! Philosophical Taoism doesn't offer easy answers--or immortality.

As for the previous reviewer who said this was the worst book he had ever read, I would love to see his reading list. That kind of extreme statement presents for me an mindset totally incapable of comprehending what Mr. Welch was presenting--especially in the first two sections.

Yes, the book was written in the 50's--nothing better has been written as an introduction to the subject since.
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32 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Erehwon on June 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
When I first encountered this book nearly 30 years ago there were very few English language books about Taoism available for the non-specialist, general interest reader. Fortunately, there are now far more and far better choices available.
It doesn't take long for the reader to realize that Welch regards Taoism and the Tao Te Ching with condescension and contempt. Aside from many factual errors, nearly every page yields some interpretation that is patently absurd.
Throughout the book Welch disdainfully references the fruits of Taoist meditation and self-cultivation as mere "trance". I noted at least one instance where Welch left out the last lines of a translation from the Tao Te Ching to make his point stronger, but in so doing he totally distorted the meaning of the passage.
Welch's grasp of the most fundamental of Taoist terms and concepts is laughably childish and shallow. For instance, Part II, chapter 1 of this book is entitled "Inaction"--his translation of "Wu Wei". Therein Welch constantly accuses Lao Tzu of passivity and pacifism. As a scholar, you'd think Welch would know that Taoist temples are filled with images of warrior dieties and that they display swords and other marital implements and regalia as symbols of the conflict inherent in society and nature. Some of China's greatest military strategists were, of course, Taoists and Taoist philosophy is the foundation of many of the Chinese martial arts. Wu Wei would be far more accurately translated as "non-interference". Taoists are certainly aware that perhaps only in death is there "inaction".
Curiously, for a general book about Taoism, Welch devotes almost all of his attention to (mis)interpreting Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching.
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