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Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way

Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way

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Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way

4/5 (2,319 ratings)
299 pages
3 hours
Dec 20, 2001


Dao De Jing is one of the richest, most suggestive, and most popular works of philosophy and literature. Composed in China between the late sixth and the late fourth centuries b.c., its enigmatic verses have inspired artists, philosophers, poets, religious thinkers, and general readers down to our own times. This new translation, both revelatory and authentic, captures much of the beauty and nuance of the original work. In an extensive and accessible commentary to his translation, Moss Roberts reveals new depths of Dao De Jing.

This edition is distinguished by the literary quality of the translation, its new renderings for a number of the stanzas, and by Roberts's knowledgeable contextualizations. Utilizing recently discovered manuscripts and Chinese scholarship based on them, he is able to shed new light on the work's historical and philosophical contexts. This translation shows that Dao De Jing is far more than a work of personal inspiration; it is also a work of universal scope that makes penetrating comments on politics, statecraft, cosmology, aesthetics, and ethics. Roberts brings these themes to our attention, shows how they are integrated into the work as a whole, and demonstrates the relevance of these topics for our own times.
Dec 20, 2001

About the author

Moss Roberts is Professor of Chinese at New York University. He has translated the classic novel Three Kingdoms, published by University of California Press in both unabridged (California, 1991, 2000, copublished with Foreign Languages Press) and abridged (California, 1999) editions. He is also the editor and translator of Chinese Fairy Tales and Fantasies (1979).

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Dao De Jing - Laozi







The Philip E. Lilienthal imprint

honors special books

in commemoration of a man whose work

at the University of California Press from 1954 to 1979

was marked by dedication to young authors

and to high standards in the field of Asian Studies.

Friends, family, authors, and foundations have together

endowed the Lilienthal Fund, which enables the Press

to publish under this imprint selected books

in a way that reflects the taste and judgment

of a great and beloved editor.



The Book of the Way


Translation and Commentary by



University of California Press

Berkeley and Los Angeles, California

University of California Press, Ltd.

London, England

© 2001 by the Regents of the University of California

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Roberts, Moss, 1937–

Dao de jing : the book of the way / translation and commentary by Moss Roberts.

p.        cm.

ISBN 0-520-20555-3

1. Laozi. Dao de jing.  I. Laozi. Dao de jing. English.

II. Title.

BL1900.L35 R628   2001

Manufactured in the United States of America

9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1   0

10   9   8   7   6   5   4   3   2   1

The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of ANSI/NISO Z39 0.48-1992 (R 1997) (Permanence of Paper). f00vi-01



IT WAS THE LATE Professor C. N. Tay who suggested that I try my hand at a translation of the Dao De Jing. Professor Tay was a friend, a colleague, and a mentor, and I was enthusiastic at the prospect of working with him on this project. Suddenly, on Easter Sunday 1994, Professor Tay passed away. Work on the project had hardly begun; my hopes for a sustained collaboration vanished. I resolved to continue with the translation, in part as a mark of my respect for his memory.

Other unexpected and keenly felt personal losses soon followed. Professor Eric Holtzman died that same month, and then in January of the following year Professor Bernard Fields, a friend since high school, passed away. Another close friend, Leo Cawley, a Vietnam veteran, had died of bone cancer at the age of forty-seven in 1991.

Three variants of the Dao De Jing have been found buried in tombs: the Guodian text in a Warring States tomb dated to about 300 B.C., and in a Han tomb at Mawangdui, two texts that date to about 200 B.C. The version published by Fu Yi, a scholar of the Tang period, is also based on a Han tomb text. It is likely that more Dao De Jing manuscripts will be excavated. At whose behest was the Dao De Jing buried, and with what thought in mind? Was it intended as a comfort to the dead? A spiritual companion among the more practical and ornamental grave goods usually found? Was it seen as a work devoted to the fecund earth mother, which creates all living things and receives them again? Or was the text entombed as a consolation for the living, its meditations on mortality and time and on the passage from shadow to light to shadow (and to the light again?) serving as a bridge to the other realm?

Working on the translation became for me a way of keeping close to lost friends whose companionship I had shared over the better part of a lifetime. In 1999, another noted scholar, John S. Service, passed away. I was privileged to have had a warm relationship with him in the last decade of his life, and I benefited from his thoughtful observations on China and on America. It is to these five friends and scholars that this translation is dedicated.

In 1993, about the time I began thinking about how to approach this project, the Warring States Working Group was getting organized under the leadership of the research team of Professor E. Bruce Brooks and Taeko Brooks. These two scholars had been studying and analyzing the entire Warring States corpus for several decades. With the collaboration of Professor Alvin Cohen at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the Brookses summoned into being a new and exciting regional symposium on a wealth of topics relevant to the history of Warring States texts. The group provided a much-needed focus for research work and free-wheeling discussion and has now become an important national and international forum. I was fortunate to have been present at the creation of the group and to have participated in many of its meetings and other activities, and my association with it was quite helpful to my research. I would also like to express appreciation for the indirect but significant contribution of my colleagues at New York University. The senior and junior scholars in our East Asian program have created an intellectual environment that I have found stimulating. Their generous collegiality and energizing spirit of free inquiry have often lifted my own spirits; but beyond that, they have served as a trustworthy point of reference against which to correct one’s angle of vision on a wide range of questions. Many a time they have made me think again.

Another person I would like to thank is Professor Fang Ping. In the fall of 1995 I spent a semester at Shanghai Teachers University teaching English. During that time I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Professor Fang, who is the main living translator of Shakespeare into Chinese. I would like to thank him for reading over a number of my stanzas and for his valuable suggestions on interpretation and style.

My thanks go to my two editors at University of California Press. Doug Abrams encouraged me to pursue this project and spent countless hours trying to put my drafts into presentable shape and discussing with me strategies for the introduction and the translation. His faith in the outcome has been in constant conflict with my own skepticism. Reed Malcolm has skillfully guided the manuscript through its later stages. Carolyn Bond’s careful copyediting caught many minor errors, and I thank her for that. But more importantly, she acted as a conscientious and constructive colleague: her persistent and pointed queries often prompted me to rethink and rewrite parts of the translation and the critical apparatus.

My final word of appreciation is to my family: my wife, Florence, whose untiring service as an attorney for the poorer citizens of New York City sustains my faith in human decency, and our children, Sean and Jenny, who have followed her example and in so doing set an example of their own.






Selected Bibliography


Moss Roberts

THE POEMS AND SAYINGS of the mysterious book of wisdom called Dao De Jing have powerfully affected many aspects of Chinese philosophy, culture, and society. In the realm of aesthetics the idea of Dao, or the Way, a transcendent natural principle working through all things, has inspired artists and poets who have sought to represent nature in its raw wholeness or have depicted vast landscapes within which human structures and pathways, overwhelmed by mists, mountain faces, and water vistas, hold a tiny and precarious place. With regard to personal spiritual cultivation Daoism offers techniques of concentration and self-control, while in the realm of physiology the Daoist theory of natural cycles points toward systems of internal circulation and techniques of rejuvenation.¹ In its ethical application Daoism teaches self-subordination and frugality and warns of the self-defeating consequences of assertiveness and aggrandizement, whether political, military, or personal.

In the realm of governance political theorists influenced by Laozi have advocated humility in leadership and a restrained and concessive approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons or for tactical ends. The well-known line that opens stanza 60, Rule a great state as you cook a small fish, has been used in China and in the West as an argument for a light touch in governing: the Way creates sufficient order. In a different political context, one mediated by legalist theories of government, a transcendent Way has served to legitimate state builders in constructing impersonal institutions and formulating all-powerful laws. Indeed the marriage of the Way with law (fa) is one of the earliest transformations and adaptations of Laozi’s thought.² On the popular level, by contrast, various anti-authoritarian movements have embraced the Dao De Jing’s teachings on the power of the weak.

Thus the Dao De Jing, in the world of philosophy a small kingdom in its own right, has spawned diverse schools of thought, and these have elaborated upon and spread widely the original teachings—often in ways that might have surprised or distressed their creator.

The Dao De Jing has so wide a compass that it is difficult to think of a comparable work in the Western canon. Passages on nature’s patterns of motion and their indifference to man’s purposes may evoke for a Western reader themes and language found in Lucretius and his model, Epicurus. If some stanzas concerning statecraft and tactical maneuver suggest Machiavelli, others suggest Gandhi, who personified in his leadership principled humility, minimal struggle, and simplicity of lifestyle. For some readers Laozi’s aphorisms and resigned reflections on human life may evoke lines in Ecclesiastes or Proverbs. Comparisons have also been made with Thoreau’s warnings about economic overdevelopment and government.

With so many English versions of the Dao De Jing, why another? There is much of value in most of the English translations, but each is only partially successful. The synergy of the work’s themes as well as the concision of its phrasing make many of its stanzas so ambiguous and suggestive that definitive interpretation, much less translation, has often proved unattainable. Rendering in another language a work that says so much in so few words, and about whose meanings scholars differ greatly, can only be problematic. Even in Chinese, many Dao De Jing passages seem like paintings of striking detail that compel the gaze but always remain partly out of focus. Each translator tries to refine the images or to find fresh language to capture the power of Laozi’s gnomic lines. In the end, however, the only justification I can offer for a new attempt is that it is meant not only to improve but also to be improved upon. The cumulative effect of multiple translations contributes to the understanding of the Laozi, just as the ongoing performance tradition of musical works yields new possibilities of expression and appreciation.

What this version seeks is, first, to bring out the Dao De Jing’s political and polemical purposes by situating it in the context of the philosophical debates that raged from the time of Confucius down to the unification of the empire in 221 B.C. Second, it attempts to reproduce the condensed aphoristic force of Laozi’s style, the appeal of his intriguing and often indeterminate syntax, and the prevalence of rhymed verse in his original. Unlike most translators, I have avoided relying on prose. Third, in the comments and notes to the stanzas I have included material from recently discovered texts—the two Mawangdui versions, which were published in 1973, and the Guodian version, published in 1998. In this way the reader can learn something about the differences between versions of the text and weigh for himself or herself the significance of the variations in wording and, perhaps more importantly, the differences in the actual number and sequence of the stanzas.³

For example, according to the research of one of the leading contemporary Laozi scholars, Yin Zhenhuan, it is likely that the true number of individual stanzas is not eighty-one but as many as 112, some of which, like passages in the Analects, are only four or eight words long.⁴ For convenience of reference and for the sake of continuity, however, the traditional order of eighty-one is followed in this translation. Ornaments indicate probable stanza divisions within a conventional stanza.


The title Dao De Jing may be translated "Canonical text (jing) on the Way (Dao) and virtue (de)." But this now-universal title did not become widely used until the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618–905), when Laozi was officially regarded as a divine guardian of the dynasty. Laozi is the older title, going back almost to the creation of the text. Although scholars now generally use the two titles interchangeably, Dao De Jing suggests an established classic in the Chinese philosophical tradition, while Laozi is more modest—the words of Master Lao, perhaps. Like the Mozi, the Guanzi, the Mencius, and other titles for writings and records collected under the name of a central figure, Laozi suggests a historical document and its original context rather than a canonical work. To reflect the difference between the two titles, in the present work Dao De Jing is more frequently, albeit not exclusively, used in the introduction, and Laozi in the comments. It is an open question how pleased the self-effacing Laozi would have been to see his little book classified as a jing—or for that matter himself as a divinity.

The Dao De Jing has come down to us in eighty-one stanzas, a form set slightly before the Christian era began; stanzas 1–37 constitute the first half, stanzas 38–81 the second. Although there are several versions, they are not dramatically different from one another. Two of the versions are named after their scholarly annotators, the Heshang gong Laozi and the Wang Bi Laozi. A third, the Fu Yi Laozi, is named for the Tang-dynasty Daoist scholar who published a text unearthed in A.D. 574 from a Han tomb dating from about 200 B.C.⁵ Present-day scholars usually call the current common text the received text to distinguish it from recently discovered manuscripts.

The first of these new discoveries was made in 1973 at Mawangdui in the tomb of an official’s son; that tomb has been dated to 168 B.C. The Mawangdui Laozi was published in 1976. Inscribed on silk, it consists of two texts, A and B, the former dating from about 205–190 B.C., the latter slightly later. These two texts differ from the received version in significant details, but the only major structural difference is that they begin with chapter 38 and end with chapter 37. In other words, the second half of the text comes before the first. Found together with Laozi A and B was a rich trove of political and cosmological documents that have been called the Huangdi sijing, or the Four Classics of the Yellow Emperor.

The Guodian Laozi, inscribed on bamboo slips, was found in 1993 and published in 1998.⁷ The text was unearthed from a royal tutor’s tomb at Guodian, near the city of Ying, the capital of the southern kingdom of Chu. This area contains many graves, and fresh discoveries can be expected. Like the Mawangdui Laozi, the Guodian Laozi was found as part of a trove of related works of politics and cosmology. All of them are works of established importance and so were probably written well before the time of their burial, approximately 300 B.C. (No complete translation of the accompanying documents has appeared so far.)

The Guodian Laozi consists of only about two thousand characters, or 40 percent of the received version, covering in their entirety or in part only thirty-one of the received text’s stanzas. The order of the stanzas is utterly different from any later versions. Moreover, it is yet to be determined whether the Guodian Laozi represents a sample taken from a larger Laozi or is the nucleus of a later five-thousand-character Laozi. A current working hypothesis is that the Guodian Laozi should be attributed to Laozi, also called Lao Dan, a contemporary of Confucius who may have outlived him, and that the remainder, the non-Guodian text, was the work of an archivist and dates from around 375 B.C.

Let us leave the recent manuscript discoveries and turn to information on the Dao De Jing in texts long available. Most traditional Chinese scholars (and a number of modern ones as well) have held that the Laozi reflects substantially the time of Confucius, that is, the late sixth or early fifth century B.C., acknowledging occasional interpolations to account for anachronistic language suggesting a somewhat later period. Before the Guodian finds, many modern Chinese and Western scholars argued for a date ranging from the early fourth to the late third century B.C. because sightings of a Laozi in Chinese works of the third century B.C. are so fragmentary. One finds lines or partial stanzas, the authorship of which either is not indicated or is attributed to someone named Lao or Lao Dan; but this attribution is not systematic. The Zhuangzi, for example, is a Daoist text of the late fourth to early third century B.C. collected under the name of the philosophical recluse Zhuangzi. This work contains several Dao De Jing lines or partial stanzas. Sometimes these are attributed to Lao Dan, yet sometimes these quotations from Lao Dan say things that are not in the Laozi, though they are compatible with its ideas.

In the Zhuangzi and other contemporary texts we find references to the Shi, the Odes (later the Shijing),

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What people think about Dao De Jing

2319 ratings / 63 Reviews
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  • (5/5)
    As D.C. Lau points out in his highly readable introduction to this Penguin Classics edition, it is highly unlikely that Lao Tzu was an acutal person, despite stories of Confucius once going to see him. Instead, the contents of the Tao Te Ching seem to be a distillation and compilation of early Daoist thought. Like the Analects of Confucius, there are passages that are corrupted and whose meaning is either unfathomable or in dispute. There are also certain ideas that are repeated in nearly identical phrases in different parts of this very short work. Compared to the Analects of Confucius, this is a shorter, easier read, but like that work, I’m sure it benefits from reading in multiple translations and from reading more about it—not just of it. Since the Teaching Company doesn’t have a course on this book as they do for the Analects, I’ll just have to rely more on my own first impressions. Daoist philosophy (or Taoist, if you want to use the old spelling—but Daoist is how you pronounce it) is intriguing because it seems to rely on not taking action rather than on actually doing anything. It is full of things such as, “He who speaks doesn’t know.” And “He who knows doesn’t speak.” You’ll be nodding your head at things like that, comparing them to your own life experience. Putting such ideas into practice, however, seems problematic. No wonder some famous Daoists were monks. I’m not sure how following the precepts in this book would work in most people’s lives, unlike, for example, applying a few Buddhist tenets. I’m sure they wouldn’t fly at my house when it’s time to wash the dishes. But I’m trivializing things here. Just trying to wrap your mind around these concepts and spending a while contemplating them is beneficial. We do, for instance, act far more often than we should. How many times can we think of when not doing something would have served us better? But we just felt compelled to act, since that seems to be part of our human nature. Not to mention being easier to explain to your friends if your act goes wrong. I’m still trivializing, I guess. I highly recommend reading this well-done translation and its commentary. There are, for instance, a lot of ebooks available that give you an old translation of this work—which may be a fine translation for all I know—but without some context, you will lose much of the pleasure of reading. People who write books with titles that include “before you die” in them should immediately die themselves before they can write more such books. But if you’re an intelligent person, and if you have a little time to spare and an interest in philosophy, give this a try and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
  • (4/5)
    This is one of those quick to read, but long to digest books. It was interesting and will take more than one reading to feel more comfortable with.
  • (5/5)
    From the book description: Drawing on meticulous study of multiple sources, this fresh but authoritative reading of Lao Tsu's timeless classic combines the poetry of the Tao Te Ching with a wealth of additional material: an introduction to the enigmatic Lao Tsu and his times; a discussion of the many challenges facing the translator; 81 illustrative Chinese characters/phrases, selected to highlight key themes in each chapter; separate commentary and inspirational quotes, as well as room for you to record your own impressions, section by section.
  • (5/5)
    Good visuals for contemplation
  • (4/5)
     I was totally surprised to find out that this is actually a political treatise but less surprised to learn that quiescence is strength.
  • (5/5)
    A classic for life.
  • (3/5)
    "People certainly have been confused for a long time."The introduction and endnotes went a long way helping me read this. I can see why it takes a lifetime to decipher this.
  • (5/5)
    Just amazing.
  • (5/5)
    Guidance I needed.
  • (4/5)
    This is a review of the Penguin publication of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu as translated by D. C. Lau in 1963. This is my first time reading anything about the Tao, apart from skimming Wikipedia entries, so I found Lau's 50+ page introduction both useful and insightful. He provides historical context for the work, and offers both the theory that Lao Tzu was a real philosopher and contemporary of Confucius and the theory that there was no "real" Lao Tzu and that the writing attributed to him is really a collection of folk sayings. I also greatly appreciated his interpretations of some difficult passages - the Tao is often concise to the point of obscurity and Lau's ability to bring in historical context to the poetic text is a welcome addition. For example:"... the Taoist precept of holding fast to the submissive lies in its usefulness as a means to survival. This being the case, we may feel that Lao tzu attaches an undue importance to survival. This feelings shows that we have not succeeded in understanding the environment that produced the hopes and fears which were crystallized into such a precept.The centuries in which the Lao tzu was produced were certainly turbulent times. China was divided into a number of states, to all intents and purposes autonomous, constantly engaged in wars of increasing scope and ferocity with one another. For the common man survival was a real and pressing problem." (p.29-30) I found this insight greatly useful when reading the many passages that stress the importance of inaction, doing nothing and basically keeping one's head down and staying out of the way. It also helps to explain the many passages directed towards rulers (translated as "sages") that stress keeping the people ignorant and not rewarding good behavior or displaying wealth since those things spurn jealousy and cause competition and unrest. Basically, the Tao in Lau's translation is not a mystical work but a survival guide for a war-torn ancient China - be quiet, don't do anything, don't want anything and don't invite anyone to start looking in your direction.My personal favourite quotes from the actual text:"Thus Something and Nothing produce each other;The difficult and the easy complement each other;The long and the short off-set each other;The high and the low incline towards each other;Note and sound harmonize with each other;Before and after follow each other." (II - 5 p.58)"When the best student hears about the wayHe practices it assiduously;When the average student hears about the wayIt seems to him one moment there and gone the next;When the worst student hears about the wayHe laughs out loud.If he did not laughIt would be unworthy of being the way....The way that is bright seems dull;The way that leads forward seems to lead backward;The way that is even seems rough. (XLI - 90-91 p. 102)
  • (5/5)
    A timeless treasure trove of ancient wisdom. Le Guin's version is fluid, digestible, and enjoyable - adding a pleasant accessibility while still remaining faithful to the text.
  • (5/5)
    In the introduction, Le Guin explains that the Tao Te Ching has been an influential book throughout her life, and that over the years she has made efforts at producing her own rendition of the classic. (She won’t call it a translation, since she doesn’t actually speak Chinese, but she has done extensive research— she provides copious notes on how she chose particular renderings in the back of the book— and produced this in collaboration with a scholar of the language.) Her goal has been to distill the clarity of the classic for a modern reader who is more likely one citizen among millions rather than a leader seeking sagacious insights for rulership. The result is quite good, with a penetrating brevity I haven’t seen in the other translations I’ve read. I actually wound up reading it with another translation to hand when I wanted to get another perspective on the occasional verse, but I think the simplicity of her rendering is a good place to start before going out looking for more nuance.
  • (5/5)
    I've read 3 translations and this one is by far my favorite.
  • (5/5)
    This translation with commentary by Ellen M. Chen has the reputation for being the best contemporary explication of the Tao Te Ching. I can't claim to have glanced at more than a few of the scores of translations currently available, but I did find that this had the terseness that I expect mimics the original. Also, the translation is careful to use the same English word to represent a given Chinese word whenever it appears in the text. This doubtless makes the translation less poetic, but it brings out the rigor of the Taoist philosophy.

    The commentary is amazing. Chen takes a philosophical rather than religious approach to the Tao Te Ching. Her commentary not only draws on Chinese texts from the Confucian, legalist, and Taoist traditions, but also on such western philosophers as Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Augustine, Thomas, Hegal, Proudhon, Marx, Freud, and Wittgenstein (the Tao is like that "whereof one cannot speak"). The result is a book that places Taoism in a global philosophical context, emphasizing its commonalties and, especially, its differences with other schools of thought.
  • (3/5)
    It didn't really explain WHAT Tao is. Maybe it was just my translation, but when the whole explanation of Tao is that ~those who know about don't talk about it, and those that talk about it, don't know about it~ isn't particularly helpful.
  • (3/5)
    I felt this was one of those things I should read to help understand another culture from another place and time. It was enjoyable from that point-of-view, but I didn't gain anything else from it.
  • (5/5)
    I've read the Tao Te Ching many times and still come away uncertain as to its meaning, but each time I get little glimmers that I didn't see before. It's probably because I'm trying to understand it that I don't.
  • (3/5)
    Not a patch on Machiavelli, yet written from the same point of view: as advice for a would-be leader. The Tao Te Ching speaks from a point of view which I find very hostile, that of providing wisdom for an aspiring leader of a hegemonistic and ambiguous state. The advice includes tips on keeping your peasants stupid and happy, and much mystical mumbo-jumbo which doesn't stand up to ten seconds' solid thinking. Mysteriously popular.
  • (5/5)
    Written by Laozi shortly before the Analects of Confucius this classic Chinese text has been more frequently translated than any book except the Bible. It is one of the foundations of East Asian thought that is still read today. The Tao Te Ching provides a combination of spirituality, common sense advice and a little nonsense to remind us that we live in world that cannot be known. Much of the text is open to a wide variety of interpretations. The beginning is a famous quote that provides a good example:The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.The name that can be named is not the eternal name.There is an important thought conveyed in those two lines that loses its' meaning if you try to reduce it to an objective fact.On the other hand the following lines are simple good advice about how to live your life.In dealing with others, be gentle and kind.In speech, be true.In ruling, be just.In business, be competent.In action, watch the timing.One of the author's favorite devices is the use of contradictions to express an idea.When the Tao is present in the universe,The horses haul manure.When the Tao is absent from the universe,War horses are bred outside the city.The Tao Te Ching is eighty-one verses and each time I read it I discover something new. For me that is the hallmark of a truly great book. The edition I have is filled with full page pictures and has the original Chinese on the opposite page from the translation.
  • (3/5)
    The basic text of Taoism that was very influential in subsequent ancient Chinese philosophical and religious beliefs. Worth reading for a very different perspective on existence.
  • (3/5)
    Overall Ames and Hall translate the Dao well and provide some useful commentary. I skipped most of the commentary because it was a bit simple and didn't always provide insightful information. However, as a beginning translation, Ames and Hall provide an easy to read and well written introductory text on the Eastern philosophy of the Dao.
  • (4/5)
    First time I've read the Tao Te Ching. Simple but profound advice for living. Simple to understand translation and the annotations and explanations are clear and helpful.
  • (3/5)
    Some things were true and I didn't need an ancient master saying them for me to know that. Other things were not true but were couched in psuedo-wisdom and illogical platitudes. Some things were useful and reaffirmed what I know at my core and other things were purely fanciful. It is fascinating that the author starts he book with the notion that the true Dao cannot be described and then continues to try to describe it.

    It was interesting when the author wrote that if his logic doesn't make sense, the reader doesn't understand the Dao (even if they are very intelligent). That's a nice built-in defense mechanism. If you criticize the content, you just don't understand it.
  • (4/5)
    A beautiful translation with a wonderfully illustrated explanations. Everyone ought read The Tao once.
  • (5/5)
    Evolved individuals keep their minds open and impartial because fixed opinions or belief systems distort the flow of pure information coming in from the outside world. The way of power involves giving in. Timeless wisdom.
  • (4/5)
    The Tao Te Ching or Daodejing is a classic Chinese text that traditionally is said to go back to the 6th Century BCE, and written by Lao Tzu, a figure whose historicity is in dispute. According to the Wikipedia, texts of it have been excavated that go back to the 4th Century BCE. Some introductions to editions claim Lao Tzu was a teacher of Confucius, but other authorities I've checked think Taoism was a reaction to Confucianism, and that the text dates later than Confucius, to the time of the "five warring states." If you have a fat book on your hands, it must be filled with commentary, notes or illustrations, because the entire work is extremely short, consisting of 81 brief verses. In the edition I own translated by D.C. Lau, the Introduction is half as long than the text. This is the entirely of Chapter 6, in the Derek Lin translation, which can be found online: The valley spirit, undying Is called the Mystic Female The gate of the Mystic Female Is called the root of Heaven and Earth It flows continuously, barely perceptible Utilize it; it is never exhaustedAs that demonstrates, the meaning isn't always clear, at least to this Westerner, even if you have some familiarity with Taoism from other sources. There's a lot of paradox, opposites juxtaposed, and as the introduction to my owned edition states, the text is often "succinct to the point of obscurity." And as a philosophy, well, these aren't connected arguments. They're more the collected wisdom sayings of a common philosophical movement and not meant to be breezed through cover to cover. Yet even from my first read I found this enjoyable to read, and filled with pithy little words of wisdom: "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step." (Chapter 64) And especially on a repeat read I can see why some in the libertarian movement embrace it. Note Chapter 57 (Derek Lin) Govern a country with upright integrity Deploy the military with surprise tactics Take the world with non-interference How do I know this is so? With the following: When there are many restrictions in the world The people become more impoverished When people have many sharp weapons The country becomes more chaotic When people have many clever tricks More strange things occur The more laws are posted The more robbers and thieves there are Therefore the sage says: I take unattached action, and the people transform themselves I prefer quiet, and the people right themselves I do not interfere, and the people enrich themselves I have no desires, and the people simplify themselvesThis is reflected in several other verses and I've seen this described as the "Wu=Wei" principle, which has influenced both libertarians such as Murray Rothbard and the Cato Institute's David Boaz and Left-anarchists such as Ursula LeGuin, who wrote a translation I recently saw in the neighborhood bookstore. There's a whole shelf full of different translations of this book, a marker of the worldwide and deep historical influence of the book--which has links to both Confucianism and Buddhism--that makes this worth reading and trying to understand. I'd compare different translations to find one that's congenial, since different translators render very different readings. Wayist Org and TaoTeChingMe.com have pages online comparing various translations.
  • (5/5)

    1 person found this helpful

    Laozi's set of 81 brief chapters sets forth the philosophy of Taoism. The author cautions the reader that words alone cannot faithfully describe his subject, the Tao or the way of the universe, which in our time has led some to dismiss this perspective due to its ambiguity. Enigmas and apparent contradictions appear frequently, which compelled me to pause to contemplate what Laozi was trying to convey. The necessity of pausing and reflecting makes reading this material fulfilling, especially when I felt I moved closer to understanding.I found the three jewels of Taoism appealing: Compassion, frugality (also translated as restraint and moderation), and humility (or not seeking to be first). Laozi is also persuasive in advocating selective gradual change rather than confrontation.This book is not for the been-there-done-that crowd, who see the ideal life as a experience of episodes of serial consumption. Instead the truths here are intended to be revealed though a combination of experience and contemplation. Some have wisely recommended memorizing some of the chapters, allowing the enigmas and puzzles to remain with us and perhaps to be solved later on with the help of experiential and contextual diversity. The edition I read was translated by Thomas H. Miles and his students. It served my purpose well, though at times I would have appreciated some additional commentary to supplement the helpful existing guidance. Miles' translation also has some useful introductory material in which key terms are defined, insofar as that is possible within Taoism. I intend to read other translations to get a better idea of the range of interpretations.

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  • (5/5)
    This book version: First, it is beautiful with inspiring/matching Chinese artwork including a texture look. Secondly, love that this version has English text with the Chinese text for each chapter every two pages, with the Chinese in the correct vertical from right to left with extra bonus points that the Chinese is done in calligraphy style. Thirdly, a very long introduction proved to be very educational and fitting. Now, the ding – the translation is too casual, using modern language that I personally don’t like, at one point using words like “me, me, me” in reference to selfishness. Hmm, I can read a little bit of Chinese, and I can promise you that’s not what the original text reads! The quotes below should give more flavors of this.Tao Te Ching (TTC), when read with my modern metropolis city girl mind, instructs “The Way”, “The Virtue”, and the “The Coda” as a reminder to the simplicity of life, easily forgotten as we plow forward with our day-to-day to-do list. Contrary to Chapter 41 where “Those who think that the Way is easy will find it extremely hard”, I think the Way is hard and still find it extremely hard! TTC also depressed me a bit (true statement). If life is supposed to be following the way of ‘nothing’, then I sure have been working my ass off for no good reason. If wisdom and knowledge is to be condemned and vilified, then part of my identity is evil. The unspoken expectation, then and now, was simply always be ‘more’, quite not the ‘Tao’. Of course, I’m not taking TTC literally. The complexities of living do not readily allow for it. (Try and explain TTC to the IRS.) Instead, I take from it a few nuggets that are meaningful. Here’s an abbreviated list:Introduction: 1) “Wu-Wei doesn’t mean just sitting about doing nothing. It means ‘being’, it means being receptive, and it means going beyond our egos in what we do and how we do what we do.” 2) “I see the essence of the Tao as poetic, with all that implies, and all we still have to learn – to really be here, and to let go.”Ch1 (Start of Tao): “Following the nothingness of the Tao, and you can be like it, not needing anything, seeing the wonder and the root of everything.” --- Meaning that nothing is something.Ch 2: 1) “Neither future nor past can exist alone.” --- Acceptance and remembrance of who you were and who you have become. 2) “Life is made – and no one owns it.”Ch 20: Seek and want nothing. “What do the people want? Money and things. And yet I find I have nothing, and I don’t care. I am as unambitious as any fool.”Ch 28: Learn to yield, learn to bend, learn to think anew. “Understand the thrust of the yang – but be more like the yin in your being… Be like a stream… Be newborn – be free of yourself…” Ch 38 (Start of Te): Reminded me of leadership, a truly good leader. “A Man of Te rules by Wu-Wei, doing nothing for himself or of himself… A man who rules with compassion, acts through it – and no one even realizes.”Ch 44: “If you’re not always wanting, you can be at peace. And if you’re not always trying to be someone, you can be who you really are.”Ch 67: “I have three priceless treasures: Compassion, Thrift, Humility… These days people scorn compassion. They try to be tough. They spend all they have, and yet want to be generous. They despise humility, and want to be the best.”
  • (4/5)
    Review of Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained: I thought that this translation was quite readable, and I appreciated the facing-page commentary. I understand that the translator wanted to point out what distinguishes his translation from all the rest, but sometimes this came across as sniping at other translators. Still, this wouldn't be a bad first Tao Te Ching to read.
  • (4/5)
    Not an "easy" read but very insightful. "Tao Te Ching" is a collection of a poems that are centered around Taoist philosophy.