Wednesday Jun 20, 2007

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching

On Saturday, I walked into a bookstore in Boston, and decided to read something different for a change (I had been reading some very interesting popular science books). I decided on poetry. One of the books I picked up was Tao Te Ching. I walked out of the store down to the Boston public garden lagoon, sat down and started reading.
I did not stop until I was well through one third of the poems. No wonder this book has survived over 2600 years! It is as youthful as ever, as readable as the best dialogs by Plato, though perhaps at the opposite spectrum of philosophy. Where Plato or Confucius are Yang, Lao Tze is Yin. They are complimentary.

Here is the first poem:

The Tao that can be followed is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the eternal name.
The namelesss is the origin of heaven and earth
While naming is the origin of the myriad things .
Therefore, always desireless, you see the mystery
Ever desiring, you see the manifestations.
These two are the same --
When they appear they are named differently.

This sameness is the mystery,
Mystery within mystery;

The door to all marvels.

Why did this book jump out at me now? I have read it twice by now.

Update Sept 2008: Another very interesting version of the Tao, with a long introduction on the huge difference between the translations, is the French Philosophes Taoistes, vol I in the luxurious La Pleiade edition. Just compare the 170 translations of the first poem to get an idea of the scope of the differences.

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