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Tao Te Ching: Text Only Edition Paperback – August 28, 1989
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Let the educated debaters go on with their "Ten thousand things" arguing about translations and meanings. They miss the point. Get this book, make some tea, turn of the incessant rattlings in your brain and the screens in your home and relax to ancient wisdom that has influenced millions of hearts and minds for thousands of years...
The translation itself is somewhat obscure at times, less accessible and direct than some of the others, but at the same time, the openness and ambiguity is the point in many cases. After owning several translations for years—I don't know all the players by name, I'm no expert, I just own several—I like this one the best because it seems less pat.
I don't read or write Chinese, but I appreciate the way that there are shades and variations and multiples of rather profound meanings and analogies in this translation, while in some other translation, a given line or chapter/section will point very clearly to one concrete meaning or another, with little room left for ambiguity or other allusions.
Based on what I do know about Chinese and its structure, the experience of reading this translation is likely closer to the experience of reading the originals.
All in all, a lovely edition of one of humanity's treasures. I've given it away on multiple occasions to people that I thought were in need of the Tao Te Ching for a moment in their lives, and all have appreciated it and commented later on about how it was a pleasure to encounter this book and its simple, unforceful, peaceful, and austere wisdom at that particular time in their life.
Probably one of the best gift books ever, not to mention one of the best to keep on your own coffee table and read often.
Amazon puts reviews of ALL translations of the Tao Te Ching into this one area!
Every translation is different and this matters very much for this particular book. This book is so subtle that you can read into it whatever you want, and each translator does exactly this. Translations matter!
Here are some translations and translators that I have read:
Stephen Mitchell's Pocket Edition: ***** (5 stars!)
Concise and accurate. If you are buying just one, this would be a good one. No commentary is given so you can sit with the words and really listen to the text. Highly recommend.
Ursula K. LeGuin's translation: ***** (5 stars!)
LeGuin is such a gifted author. She brings her gentle touch and subtle insights to her translation of the Tao Te Ching. While her version is a little bit more interpreted than the Mitchell, it is a good interpretation for today's reader. It's a little more American, a little Liberal, and very good.
Charles Johnson translation: * (1 star)
This one has a tan cover with ink painting of mountains, Chinese characters on top, then the text "The TAO TE CHING - Lao Tsu's book of the way and of Righteousness"
Ugh. An older translation. Horrible. The translator brings his ideas about religion to the text and turns it into a religious doctrine, which goes directly against the spirit of the text. Let's compare the Johnson with the Mitchell:
Mitchell: "When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly."
Johnson: "When all men have learned the beauty of righteousness, the ugliness of sin is understood"
See the difference? The Mitchell is saying that dualistic thoughts are created as a set of opposites and imposed on the singular world. Thing's aren't beautiful or ugly in themselves. It is the viewer that creates the idea of ugliness by seeing some things as beautiful. One creates the other. The real world, the Tao of the world, has no beauty or ugliness. It is beyond the duality.
Johnson, on the other hand, says that righteousness and sin are out there and exist in themselves as actual entities, and when "men have learned" this, they will understand sin. He says that sin is real and out there to be understood or not, and suggests that Lao Tzu is telling us how to differentiate between beauty and sin. Nothing could be farther from the spirit of this text. In fact, the Christian notion of "sin" has absolutely nothing to do with this text at all, nor with Chinese philosophy generally.
Johnson brings his views of the world to this text and inserts them into the book, corrupting the masterpiece with his own agenda.