Customer Reviews: Lao-tzu's Taoteching
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on February 19, 2010
I've been reading translations of the Taoteching since I was twelve years old. No text has resonated more with my intimate experience of the natural world. In the verses of the Taoteching I found a philosophy that matched the depth and wonder I experienced while wandering for uncounted hours through the countryside of my boyhood home. Red Pine revised in 2009 his translation of this ancient text, and what a revision! The small changes in phrasing throughout the text further clarify the spirit of the Taoteching and lend a universal resonance. One important change is a shift toward inclusive pronouns. Gone are the masculine references to sages, and in their stead sages are addressed in the plural, as a collective. This inclusiveness fits well with the spirit of the Taoteching. This subtle yet significant change needs to be considered in a larger context: This translation of the Taoteching has it all. Each verse includes its modern Chinese, lending an artful presence and a resource to those with a scholarly interest in the origins of the text. Each verse includes commentary from the past 2000 years that further illumines the spirit of the Taoteching. The simple and direct language of Red Pine's earlier translation remains and rings like timeless poetry. My one struggle is that I keep giving away my copy and have to buy it repeatedly. This book is too fine a gem to keep to oneself.
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on May 10, 2001
Anyone looking for an approachable edition of the Tao Te Ching, one that gives us the Chinese and Taoist point-of-view in clear and simple English, and that isn't overburdened with extraneous or purely scholarly matter, should certainly consider that of Red Pine. The translator has spent much of his life in the East, has experienced the life of a Taoist ascetic, and we could ask for no better guide to the meanings of this simple but elusive text, a text that is one of the greatest glories of the Ancient Chinese literature of the Chou period.
As many know, Classical Chinese is an extremely concise and powerful language, a language of great masculine vigor, and one of the first things to look for in any translation from Classical Chinese is a comparable economy and energy. Some people don't seem to understand this, and I think it's because they fail to realize that words, besides expressing meaning, can also serve to limit meaning, especially in grammatically fussy Indo-European languages such as English where sentences are intended to convey as precise a meaning as possible and in doing so can become (as mine are here) rather wordy.
But ancient Chinese writing isn't like this. Rather than attempting to narrow and delimit meaning, and to pin us down to something particular and explicit, it aims instead to open and expand our understanding. In other words, although it can look deceptively simple, it is in fact richly suggestive, rich in implications. And this rich suggestiveness will suggest many things to different readers. That is why no Chinese reader would even think of approaching an ancient classic without a commentary. For no matter what a text may suggest to a given reader, we may be sure that it has suggested many more things to earlier and possibly more acute readers.
Red Pine does not fail us on either of these counts. His translation is spare, pure, even austere, but whereas most English editions of the Tao Te Ching give us only the comments of the individual translator, Red Pine has gone one further. He has had the brilliant idea of giving us, on pages facing the text, a selection of passages from over twenty of China's most outstanding commentators, figures ranging from the famous philosopher Wang Pi (+ 226-249) through to the Sung Dynasty Taoist nun Ts'ao Tao-Ch'ung (+ 960-1278), and this is something which has never been done before in English.
Red Pine tells us that he "envisioned this book as a discussion between Lao-tzu and a group of people who have thought deeply about his text" (page xxi). Many of the comments, which are intended "to provide important background information or insights," are truly luminous, and to read them along with the text can be an overwhelming experience.
Here is Chapter 47 of Red Pine's translation, slightly rearranged since it should be set out as verse: "Without going out his door / he knows the whole world / without looking out his window / he knows the Way of Heaven / the farther people go / the less people know / therefore the sage knows without moving / names without seeing / succeeds without trying." (page 94).
I was led to ponder this particular passage by Ingo Swann, the noted US exponent of Remote Viewing, who quotes it in one of his writings. The chapter itself, for anyone who knows anything at all about Remote Viewing, is powerfully suggestive. But the comments (which really need to be read in full to be properly savored) add even more.
The first comment which struck me was that of Su Ch'e, who tells us that "The reason the sages of the past understood everything without going anywhere was simply because they kept their natures whole" (page 94). The second remarkable comment was that of Ch'eng Hsuan Ying, which reads in part: "'without trying' means to focus the spirit on the tranquility that excels at making things happen" (page 95).
But doesn't all this suggest that superpowers, as Ingo Swann asserts, are part of everyone's inheritance as a human being? Doesn't it also suggest a getting in touch with the Collective Unconsciousness? the Universal Mind? The ONE? The TAO? And isn't this in fact what Remote Viewers such as Ingo Swann have rediscovered today? Have we, in other words, finally begun to re-acquire something of the lost Wisdom of the Ancients...? It would certainly seem so to me.
Besides the excellent translation and valuable commentaries, Red Pine has thoughtfully given us, printed vertically alongside the English translation, the Chinese text in full form characters. This text, it should be noted, is the translator's own new and original recension, and is based on a careful study of the many extant editions of the Tao Te Ching including that discovered at Mawangtui in 1973.
Red Pine's edition also comes with a map; an informative 12-page historical introduction; several interesting photographs among which is one of the Mawangtui text; and a very full bilingual glossary of Chinese names and terms. My one criticism is that, although Red Pine often refers us to specific lines (e.g., "In line sixteen..."), line numbers have not been printed alongside either the English or the Chinese texts and it can sometimes take time to locate the line he's talking about.
Although intended for a popular readership, Red Pine's edition, which I believe was out-of-print for a while, is certainly scholarly in the best sense of the word. The wise would be well advised to snap up a copy before it goes out-of-print again. It may be the only Tao Te Ching you will ever need.
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on July 24, 2005
In Asia, sacred texts like the Tao Te Ching are read with reference to the commentaries of its key historical luminaries. Only in the west is it read by itself, with no guidance. Finally, we have a TTC with key commentaries. Plus, the author has here given a translation that may come as close as possible to expressing the Chinese in English. It is concise, even pithy.

A number of other features make this volume unique and particularly valuable. Pine's extensive introduction covers an intriguing linguistic insight into the Chinese written character for Tao, Lao Tzu's historical background, the usual issues of authorship, etc., and some of the deeper understandings of the important themes of philosophical Taoism. Also, he has provided black and white photos of the famed Hanku Pass and the Loukuantai where tradition holds that Lao-tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching. The Chinese text is provided along side Pine's clear and unadorned translation. He utilizes the earlier but more recently discovered Mawangtui texts, and explains his preferences in choosing among textual variants. But most important for me, and for any student of the Tao Te Ching are his carefully selected commentaries which follow each verse. These show how the Chinese have traditionally understood the passages of the TTC in selected commentaries from the last 2000 years. Also, the book provides an extensive glossary of the Chinese terms and the commentators. Highly recommended!
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on October 15, 1998
As every reader of Lao Tzu's magnum opus is well aware, there is perhaps no other work produced by the human mind which has appeared in as many translations, quasi-translations, pseudo-translations, non-translations and mistranslations as Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. Why then, the reader will wonder, do we need yet another? Because, with the possible exception of Prof. Mair's excellent rendering, there is none other comparable to this one. Red Pine is no dabbler in these matters. A quick reading of the Introduction (which, with its photographs is itself worth the price of the book) should convince the reader of that. But the book offers even more than a lucid translation of the ancient classic (and it IS a translation, not a paraphrase of someone else's): there is a bonus on every page, a judicious selection of commentaries from ancient writers, who have interpreted the verses, and have found in them a source of inspiration which readers have acknowledged over the past two millennia. If you decide to buy only one translation of Tao Te Ching, you won't be disappointed if this is the one you choose. Justin Thacker, Los Angeles, California
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on August 20, 2004
For those interested in the Tao Te Ching, the red pine translation is indispensible. Though there's little way to check the historical or translational accuracy in the provided sources to each stanza, they remain an invaluble insight to the meaning of each, significantly helping to aid your understanding, and come to a conclusion on your own.

I recommend this book to anyone I feel may benefit from it's wisdom, and plan whole heartedly on sending a copy of it as a gift to every elected president of the united states that comes along, as the book was originally intended as a commentary itself towards the ruling class.
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on August 31, 2009
First off I want to say that I am a fan of Bill Porter. I own, and have enjoyed, several of his translations, namely, The Zen Works of Stonehouse: Poems and Talks of a 14th Century Chinese Hermit by Red Pine. This is an incredible book and well worth owing, if you can get your hands on it.

However, I am sorry to say that I find this to be a rather poor version of the Tao Te Ching. Those of us who are not fortunate enough to be able to read Chinese have to rely on a translation, ..of course. There is a basic rule involving translation, and that is, it should read well in the language that it is translated to. Regrettably this translation misses the mark. The Tao Te Ching is poetry after all, poetry is a basic element to the text, and poetry is wholly missing from this edition.

Another problem with the text is that it seems to be lacking in common sence.

For example, in the 69th verse Porter translates,
"no fate is worse than to have no enemy
without an enemy we would loose our treasure."

Compare that to the Gia-Fu Feng, Jane English edition which reads,
"The is no greater catastrophe than underestimating the enemy.
By underestimating the enemy, I almost lose what I value."

This is a pretty major diversion, and this edition is chalked full of this type of miss-connect. There is also the matter of the use of the phrase "Dark Virtue." I'm not going to get too far into this, but basically Porter says that he agrees that the word "Tao" really means "moon" and in particular, the new "Dark" moon. He then takes every opportunity to translate in to the text his "Dark Virtue" so as to drive the point home.

"Dark Virtue" is a particularly nonsensical expression and it simply muddies up a muddy translation even further.

Again, I'm sorry to say it. I just feel that someone new to the Tao Te Ching needs to be warned off of this book. You have better options available to you. I do recommend this book to those looking for a second or third translation to explore, but certainly not to those looking for a first and only copy.

Best wishes.
(flame suit on)
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on August 10, 2010
Years ago I heard that the Taoteching was the most translated Chinese text on the planet. For fun I started buying different English translations and thought I had a lot when I got 20 versions... That was ~80 books ago, each by a different translator. Line them all up and force me to choose one translation to take to the proverbial desert island and I'm packing Red Pine's version (the revised one from Copper Canyon Press). First, unlike so many "translators," Red Pine actually reads Chinese. Second, he has traveled extensively in China, including visits to Hanku Pass, so he has a feel for the place. Third, unlike any other version, his includes hundreds of brief commentaries from monks, nuns, hermits, poets, officials, and historians to create a multi-layered conversation about this enigmatic masterpiece. Included is the Chinese text, a great introduction by Red Pine, a glossary, and a cover that begs the question, "How does a rock do that?"
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on May 29, 2003
This is one of the short-list finest English translations of this indispensable work of cosmic insight and practical wisdom (the two are, as Lao Tzu repeatedly points out, identical in effect). Like Jonathan Star's translation (in his wonderful verbatim text), Pine's work is the rendering of a person with a scholarly background who clearly has made a heart-connection with his subject; in short, this is the work of man who loves the Tao and refuses to hide behind a cloak of academic pretence in his translation. The only distraction to the book is its inclusion of commentary from various sources directly on the page with the poems: I much prefer having the translator's or others' commentary in the back of the text, so that the reader can fully experience the poems in the main part of the text independently, without the distraction of "expert insight." These are poems that should be read and re-read, time and again, year after year, for this is a work that always refreshes itself and its readers. In other respects, however, Pine's translation is well worth a spot on the shelf of any lover of the Tao.
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on May 7, 2006
The only language in which the Taoteching could have been written is Classical Chinese, a medium seemingly open enough to accomodate any translation without losing anything at all. But we should keep in mind, as the good book here says, ". . . the Tao in words is not the real Tao . . ." We could say that Classical Chinese could not really, in our day and age, be served up in literal translation, and we can be grateful to Red Pine, once again, that in this fabulous rendering, he does not begin with the words, but rather with the Tao.

Paul Reps once told me that we humans "are on the outside looking in". Like the space between the kanji strokes, as with the Chinese, thus with the Tao, and even the Truth. (Chapter 11: "Thirty spokes converge on a hub, but it's the emptiness that makes a wheel work . . ."
This translation does work. As in his other impressive translations (I especially love his moving early 1990's translation of Bodhidharma - recommended to all who wish to learn more of Ch'an or Zen) there breathes an immediacy which flows forth into the consciousness of our moment, resonant in these teachings. Relatively obscure in the West not half a century ago, they thus have been recognized for their pith, their eternal relevance, their vision.

Each Chapter in this well-bound, well-designed volume is accompanied by a series of commentaries or alternative translations from various sages in the Taoist tradition, a process which itself, once again, reveals the Tao, ever changing, always unchanged.

Chapter 19: "Get rid of wisdom and reason
and people will live a hundred times better
get rid of kindness and justice
and people once more will love and obey
get rid of cleverness and profit
and thieves will cease to exist
but these sayings are not enough
hence let this be added
wear the undyed and hold the uncarved
reduce self-interest and limit desires
get rid of learning and problems will vanish"

I've been reading this book since the early 1960's in various English renditions - this one is far and away my current favorite - a real delight!
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on December 21, 1999
Not only is this a good translation of the Tao Te Ching (mixing several versions with a lot of Mawangtui), but there is excellent commentary from both the author and selected quotes from other authors, thinkers, documents, etc. Add in a helpful guide in the back about where these quotes and analyses came from, and you have an excellent resource to help you learn more on the subject. If you study Taoism, or if you must have one copy of the Tao Te Ching, this is a must-have.
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