The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal name.
– Tao Te Ching, Verse 1
For some reason study of the Tao Te Ching eluded me for many years – popping up in various quotes and commentaries, making a brief appearance then diving down below the surface again. This year, prompted by Wayne Dyer who did the same thing, I decided to take a year and a half to study the Tao Te Ching – one of its chapters every week, for a total of 81 weeks.
The Tao Te Ching is a book shrouded in mystery – around twenty five centuries old, probably written by a man called Lao Tzu in ancient China. Somehow it remains relevant: I think probably because it speaks in mysteries and allows us to each draw up meaning from its depths, yet it retains a sense of absolute value, of what is, and what is not.
It also seems to me to come from a place of oneness – one of its core tenets is that we as humans create ‘the ten thousand things’ and name them – yet all come from and ultimately must return to ‘The Way’.
Tao Te Ching loosely translates to ‘The Book of the Way’s Virtues’
Dào/tao meaning ‘way’ or ‘the Way’ – the essence of the Universe, the Oneness, the Infinite
Dé/te meaning ‘integrity’, ‘inner character’, ‘virtue’ or ‘divine power’
Jīng/ching meaning, simply, ‘great book’.
It is of course written in Chinese character form, where each character is not just a word, but also a concept, a thought, an entire raft of meaning which needs to be factored in to any attempt to provide a translation. And equally, it has changed its source and its script over the years from its origins probably in zhuànshū script and later in kǎishū. We have no way to tell whether the version we have is in any way close to what Lao-Tzu originally penned… but I like to believe that it is, and that when we study it with an open mind and a willing heart that we find truth within its pages.
All of this is by means of saying that digging to the meaning of the Tao Te Ching is not like reading a book, but more a process of meditation: almost a conversation between the book and the reader where meaning is discovered not just in the reading, but in the living, and in the way that the book sheds light on other aspects of our own journey.
I have spent time with Ursula Le Guin’s rendering, with Wayne Dyer’s own loose interpretation, with Legge & McDonald’s translation, and with that of Stephen Mitchell. These are the versions that have fallen into my hands – there are at least 250 others, each with their own approach and their own strengths and weaknesses. Translation of the historical Chinese relies much on its reference to the known literature and concepts of the day, much as our own conversations and literature draw on our own experience of books and film, of society and the common thread of shared understanding to create a richness to our own reading.
So for me, this is an adventure – an exciting journey into ancient wisdom, as drawn through my own thoughts and experiences. “Thoughts on The Way” will be my personal encounter with this amazing book. I hope you share it with me.
Find out more at www.timhodgson.org