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Taoism: The Parting of the Way Paperback – June 1, 1971
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From the Back Cover
This book offers a comprehensive discussion of Taoism, one of the world's major religions, as well as a study of the Tao te ching, the best known Taoist text, Lao-Tzu as a Taoist prototype.
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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.
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. There is little discussion of other essential figures such as Chuang Tzu and Lieh Tzu. Welch fails to acknowledge the extent to which Taoist philopshy and sensibilities have influenced and permeated every aspect of Chinese life and culture.
Welch's most astonishing statements are to be found in Part Four, in the latter part of this book:
"We [Americans]believe...that it is good to be vigorous, progressive, and forward looking, Lao Tzu believes it is good to be weak and to look inwards and backwards. We believe that what America needs is dynamic, aggressive leadership. He prefers leadership that is listless and passive. We believe in keen competition. He believess in dull indifference. We believe in education. He considers it dangerous."
Welch therefore perfectly reflects the triumphalism, materialism, reductionism and positivism that permeated the zeitgeist of the 1950's. The world is a very different place now. Whatever the reason, Welch was unable to understand Taoism. It is unfortuante that he chose to write about a topic of which he had no useful understanding or insight and to thereby pass his ignorance and bias on to his readers. It is unfortunate that his book is still in print to contribute further misunderstanding and distortion of Taoism and the Tao Te Ching.
Unfortunately, I have not encountered any book that provides a really good introdcutory overview of Taoism. Eva Wong's: The Shambhala Guide to Taoism has a good deal useful information. It unfortunately lacks a discussion of basic Taoist concepts.
The Tao Te Ching continues to be published in an astonishing number of translations. Many of them are very poor translations. I've noted that many newer translations have a new age, politically correct flavor that may be stylish but is very inaccurate. A good and venerable translation is that of Lin Yutang and should be readily available inexpensively from used book dealers. The scholarly translation by Ellen Chen is useful but may be too daunting for the casaul reader.
Though not exhibiting any depth of scholarly knowledge, the books by John Blofeld are worthwhile as they contain a good deal of charming anecdotal material from his experiences visiting Taoist monasteries before the communist revolution in China. Blofeld provides a delightful glimpse of a world that is tragically gone forever.
A brief monograph by Julius Evola entitled, Taoism-The Magic, The Mysticism, is worth acquiring. Evola is a metaphyscian and esotericist rather than an academic sinologist. His insights into Taoism in this very short work are excellent.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The book ends in an awesome question and answer prose in Tao-think with...Read more