Monday, September 15, 2003

About the Tao Te Ching: Completing the Beginning

A Doorway to the Way of Tao?

:: For a few weeks I have been working, on and off -- some days it feels mostly off -- at a project which has sometimes had my toes curling on their own: a personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Although written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight.

One of the first translations from the chinese was made into french in 1823; it's intriguing to speculate if Beethoven might have been exposed to it; he almost certainly would have admired it. John Chalmers created the first known complete english translation in 1868 and famous ones followed by James Legge in 1891 and Aleister Crowley in 1918. Since then, famous and infamous, scholars and poets, ministers and aetheists alike have tackled their own Taos. If you hunt online, you'll find at least 35 current translations/interpolations/re-interpretations, including, soon, one by SensualPoet!

The translation challenges are immense and, in comparing closely about 20 versions of the 35 I have managed to locate, there is little consensus among authors. A glimpse into the gnarliness of it all can be found in the brief article Pathless path, nameless name: Translating Laozi by Imre Galambos. If you'd like to compare just chapter one, several english renderings are conveniently located here.

:: Today I completed part one, Tao, or the Book of the Way. Tao Te Ching means "The Book (or sacred texts) of the Way and Virtue" where "way" is something like all-encompassing Nature and "virtue" is a way of being which attempts to harmonize with Tao. Much of the first book concerns itself with trying to describe the indescribable. Lao-tzu uses about 5000 characters (these are rich chinese characters, each equivalent to a word or a paragraph densely contained within) for the entire 81 chapters; my first 37 already stretch to 4300 words. But then, I am using english. ;-)

I haven't posted my own version -- the ink isn't even dry! -- but I will do so within the next several days (probably after my return from Asheville, NC). As an appetite whetter, here is my Chapter One.

One - The Essence Of Tao

The Tao which is explainable is not the Transcendental Tao.

True Tao is felt, discerned and lived. It is seen as if out of the corner of the eye -- ever there and never there.

Real Tao is nameless because it is beyond words. Attempt to Name the Infinite Tao and its ever-present essence slips away and leaves merely the Name.

The nameless Eternal Tao begins before the beginning, even before Heaven and Earth.

The nameable Finite Tao marks the boundary which contains all things.

Tread the earth lightly, free of fear or longing, and with your Spirit you may come to know the inside of Tao.

Charge into life lustily, dazzling your senses, and by celebrating life with your Body you will feast on the outside of Tao.

Inside and outside; darkness and light; unnameable and named; though seeming opposites they make up a whole; inseparably locked together, they are one: the one is Tao.

Experience reality! Then dare to step beyond into the darkly, vaguely invisible, charcoal on gray path, and you will be, as you ever are, at the gateway to the sensed, not spoken, Darkest Mystery: Tao.

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