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Taoism: The Parting of the Way Paperback – June 1, 1971
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Bought as a gift and my friend enjoyed reading it. Great Buy for slight used bookPublished on April 12, 2013 by Bsage
Excellent older book on the Tao Te Ching and Taoism. Considering it's age and current scholarship it still definitely bears reading.Published on September 5, 2010 by David W. Shaver
Holmes Welch has done what many authors have failed to do. He provided a clear frame for Taoism in its entirety. Read morePublished on August 21, 2009 by Demitri Pevzner
This book is great, the perfect introduction to the lay reader who isn't a student of philosophy. Welch is extremely knowledgeable, and it's obvious that he's researched the... Read morePublished on December 10, 2002 by Amazon Customer
If you are new to Lao Tzu, this is the book to begin with. Glad it's back in print. Much of the book is about the religion called "Taoism"--it's complex history. Read morePublished on October 25, 2002 by E.W.Williams Jr.
Awesome!! This book fully explains how Taoism took different forms depending on their environment.
The book ends in an awesome question and answer prose in Tao-think with many... Read more