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Tao Te Ching: A New English Version

Tao Te Ching: A New English Version

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by Stephen Mitchell

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Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, is the classic manual on the art of living and one of the wonders of the world. In eighty-one brief chapters, the Tao Te Ching llods at the basic predicatment of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit. This book is about wisdom in action. It teaches how wo work for


Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, is the classic manual on the art of living and one of the wonders of the world. In eighty-one brief chapters, the Tao Te Ching llods at the basic predicatment of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit. This book is about wisdom in action. It teaches how wo work for the good with the efforless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao (the basic principle of the universe) and applies equally to good government and sexual love, to childrearing, business, and ecology.

The Tao Te Ching is the most widely traslated book in world literature, after the Bible. Yet the gemlike lucidity of the original has eluded most previous translations, and they have obscured some of its central ideas. Now the Tao Te ching has been rendered into English by the eminent scholar and traslator Stephen Mitchell. Mr. Mitchell's Dropping Ashes on the Buddha is a modern Zen classic, and his translations of Rilke and of the Book of Job have already been called definitive for our time.

Editorial Reviews

New Republic
Beautiful and accessible; the English, as 'fluid as melting ice,' is a joy to read throughout.
Common Boundary
Mitchell's great talent is to communicate with the profound simplicity utterly appropriate for this task. The obscure has been made transparent and available.
Huston Smith
Mitchell's rendition of the Tao Te Ching comes as close to being definitive for our time as any I can imagine. It embodies the virtues its translator credits to the Chinese original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, largeheartedness, and deep wisdom.
Library Journal
Based on contemporaneous texts discovered by archeologists in China in the last 20 years, this new translation of the Te-tao Ching is very readable and enjoyable yet at the same time meticulously researched and accurate. It has a clear introduction, extensive commentary, and complete notes. A library wanting complete holdings on Chinese philosophy should surely consider this first of a five-volume series on Chinese classics that will appear in the next years. Otherwise, it will suffice to have translations of Lao-Tzu, the Tao (The Way), and/or the Tao-Te Ching by some or all of its past translators, including Stephen Mitchell, Wing-Tsit Chan, H.B. Crill, Witter Byner, Feng and English, Arthur Waley, Lin Yutang, and James Legge.-- Kitty Chen Dean, Nassau Coll., Garden City, N.Y.

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Tao Te Ching (pronounced, more or less, Dow Deh Jing) can be translated as The Book of the Immanence of the Way or The Book of the Way and of How It Manifests Itself in the World or, simply, The Book of the Way. Since it is already well known by its Chinese title, I have let that stand.

About Lao-tzu, its author, there is practically nothing to be said. He may have been an older contemporary of Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) and may have held the position of archive-keeper in one of the petty kingdoms of the time. But all the information that has come down to us is highly suspect. Even the meaning of his name is uncertain (the most likely interpretations: "the Old Master" or, more picturesquely, "the Old Boy"). Like an Iroquois woodsman, he left no traces. All he left us is his book: the classic manual on the art of living, written in style of gemlike lucidity, radiant with humor and grace and largeheartedness and deep wisdom: one of the wonders of the world.

People usually think of Lao-tzu as a hermit, a dropout from society, dwelling serenely in some mountain hut, unvisited except perhaps by the occasional traveler arriving from a '60s joke to ask, "What is the meaning of life?" But it's clear from his teachings that he deeply cared about society, if society means the welfare of one's fellow human beings; his book is, among other things, a treatise on the art of government, whether of a country or of a child. The misperception may arise from his insistence on wei wu wei, literally "doing not-doing," which has been seen as passivity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

A good athlete can enter a state ofbody-awareness in which the right stroke or the right movement happens by itself, effortlessly, without any interference of the conscious will. This is a paradigm for non-action: the purest and most effective form of action. The game plays the game; the poem writes the poem; we can't tell the dancer from the dance.

Less and less do you need to force things,
until finally you arrive at non-action.
When nothing is done,
nothing is left undone.

Nothing is done because the doer has wholeheartedly vanished into the deed; the fuel has been completely transformed into flame. This "nothing" is, in fact, everything. It happens when we trust the intelligence of the universe in the same way that an athlete or a dancer trusts the superior intelligence of the body. Hence Lao-tzu's emphasis on softness. Softness means the opposite of rigidity, and is synonymous with suppleness, adaptability, endurance. Anyone who has seen a t'ai chi or aikido master doing not-doing will know how powerful this softness is.

Lao-tzu's central figure is a man or woman whose life is in perfect harmony with the way things are. This is not an idea; it is a reality; I have seen it. The Master has mastered Nature; not in the sense of conquering it, but of becoming it. In surrendering to the Tao, in giving up all concepts, judgments, and desires, her mind has grown naturally compassionate. She finds deep in her own experience the central truths of the art of living, which are paradoxical only on the surface: that the more truly solitary we are, the more compassionate we can be; the more we let go of what we love, the more present our love becomes; the clearer our insight into what is beyond good and evil, the more we can embody the good. Until finally she is able to say, in all humility, "I am the Tao, the Truth, the Life."

The teaching of the Tao Te Ching is moral in the deepest sense. Unencumbered by any concept of sin, the Master doesn't see evil as a force to resist, but simply as an opaqueness, a state of self-absorption which is in disharmony with the universal process, so that, as with a dirty window, the light can't shine through. This freedom from moral categories allows him his great compassion for the wicked and the selfish.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn't reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn't waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man's teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man's job?
If you don't understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret.

The reader will notice that in the many passages where Lao-tzu describes the Master, I have used the pronoun "she" at least as often as "he." The Chinese language doesn't make this kind of distinction; in English we have to choose. But since we are all, potentially, the Master (since the Master is, essentially, us), I felt it would be untrue to present a male archetype, as other versions have, ironically, done. Ironically, because of all the great world religions the teaching of Lao-tzu is by far the most female. Of course, you should feel free, throughout the book, to substitute "he" for "she" or vice versa.

As to method: I worked from Paul Carus's literal version, which provides English equivalents (often very quaint ones) alongside each of the Chinese ideograms. I also consulted dozens of translations into English, German, and French. But the most essential preparation for my work was a fourteen-year-long course of Zen training, which brought me face to face with Lao-tzu and his true disciples and heirs, the early Chinese Zen Masters.

With great poetry, the freest translation is sometimes the most faithful. "We must try its effect as an English poem," Dr. Johnson said; "that is the way to judge of the merit of a translation." I have often been fairly literal — or as literal as one can be with such a subtle, kaleidoscopic book as the Tao Te Ching. But I have also paraphrased, expanded, contracted, interpreted, worked with the text, played with it, until it became embodied in a language that felt genuine to me. If I haven't always translated Lao-tzu's words, my intention has always been to translate his mind.

What People are Saying About This

Huston Smith
"Embodies the virtues its translator credits to the original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, largeheartedness, and deep wisdom."
Louise Erdrich
"I read the Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao Te Ching in one sitting, three times. It is stunning, so lovely. It is a treasure."

Meet the Author

Stephen Mitchell's many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, Gilgamesh, and The Second Book of the Tao, as well as The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, The Gospel According to Jesus, Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Job, and Meetings with the Archangel.

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Tao Te Ching 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 59 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As other reviewers have already pointed out, this book is not really a translation at all. It's basically a mish-mash of some of the original material and the author's own politically correct new age philosophy. For instance, Mitchell always uses the female pronoun in refering to sages, but that is incorrect. The original Chinese is gender-neutral. There are also many omissions in this translation. Some of the best passages from the original Tao Te Ching are nowhere to be found in this book. The reason this book has become so popular is that, well, people are fairly gullible. Most do not know Chinese -- I on the other hand am a native speaker despite being Caucasian -- so they trust the opinion of academics and scholars. Unfortunately, in this case these learned folks have really dropped the ball. They don't have to be critical, but at least they should refrain from calling this book authentic or authoritative. The truth is that it is neither. Barnes & Noble has many other translations available. I advise people to look at the other choices.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a translation of the Dao De Jing. This is an interpretation. Stephen Mitchell puts his personal spin on many passages and teachers of Asian Religion an Philosophy warn against his writing on this subject. When compared to the original text there is much that differs. This is a version that incorporates more new age western thinking than classic Daoist thought. If you're looking for comforting ideas this is the text for you, but if you're looking for Doaist text try the translation by Red Pine
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the book you need to condense the teachings of many other holy books into one. And you can carry it with you and keep it close to you for daily inspiration.
lunged More than 1 year ago
If you are only going to read one version, this should be it. A very easy to read translation. Ideally, you should read this along with a more traditional translation - you'll get the most out of the text that way. When you read more than one translation, you really start to form your own unique conclusions, and that is the most important part.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite translation of the Tao Te Ching. It is easy to read and a joy to learn.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Once I pick this book up I can't put it down. It was to me recommended by a friend. The author explains the text well.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is a feel good, slap your forehead and go "duh, of course" listen....seriously, very calming and something I've been listening to daily and thoroughly enjoying.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been given other versions of the Tao de Ching to read, but none have shone the quality and the essence of the original author as I believe this one by Stephen Mitchell does. It's one of those books you read very slowly, again and again, and let the beauty of it sink in to your being. It's truth has given me a peace like nothing else-- a sidewards glance and acceptance of the paradox of life. My version is a hard copy with a ribbon page saver, which I relish! Thank you!
Guest More than 1 year ago
On comparing the original and translation, this translation of the Chinese classic is quite unsatisfactory. The translator presents the basic ideas of Taoism, but deviates from the original Tao Te Ching. I am quite disappointed about the translator's work. Many important points found in the original work were cut in the translation. It is my advice for other purchasers not to buy this translation; it would be a waste.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is a fun and happy presentation of the Tao Te Ching with good translations. I would definately recommend it as both a piece of literature and art. It's the kind of book that sparks conversation on a coffee table. Peace.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Changed my life
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Im in a race for fnaf rp!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
All books and life in the world summed up!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
&love &#love
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is nothing like the true Tao Te Ching. In fact, it shouldn't even be called by that name. It is loosely based on the original, but is full of Mitchell's own New Age ideas. If you want true literal translations that also have commentaries, Ellen M. Chen, Derek Lin, and Rodney A. Cooper are excellent choices. Mitchell's version is completely different than the original. Its a real shame that it has gained such popularity.
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There is no way to view actual chapters or read anything.
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