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Original Tao: Inward Training (Nei-yeh) and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism (Translations from the Asian Classics) [Paperback]

Harold D Roth
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Book Description

7 Dec 2004 Translations from the Asian Classics
Revolutionizing received opinion of Taoism's origins in light of historic new discoveries, Harold D. Roth has uncovered China's oldest mystical text -- the original expression of Taoist philosophy -- and presents it here with a complete translation and commentary. Over the past twenty-five years, documents recovered from the tombs of China's ancient elite have sparked a revolution in scholarship about early Chinese thought, in particular the origins of Taoist philosophy and religion. In Original Tao, Harold D. Roth exhumes the seminal text of Taoism -- Inward Training (Nei-yeh) -- not from a tomb but from the pages of the Kuan Tzu, a voluminous text on politics and economics in which this mystical tract had been "buried" for centuries. Inward Training is composed of short poetic verses devoted to the practice of breath meditation, and to the insights about the nature of human beings and the form of the cosmos derived from this practice. In its poetic form and tone, the work closely resembles the Tao-te Ching; moreover, it clearly evokes Taoism's affinities to other mystical traditions, notably aspects of Hinduism and Buddhism. Roth argues that Inward Training is the foundational text of early Taoism and traces the book to the mid-fourth century B.C. (the late Warring States period in China). These verses contain the oldest surviving expressions of a method for mystical "inner cultivation," which Roth identifies as the basis for all early Taoist texts, including the Chuang Tzu and the world-renowned Tao-te Ching. With these historic discoveries, he reveals the possibility of a much deeper continuity between early "philosophical" Taoism and the later Taoist religion than scholars had previously suspected. Original Tao contains an elegant and luminous complete translation of the original text. Roth's comprehensive analysis explains what Inward Training meant to the people who wrote it, how this work came to be "entombed" within the Kuan Tzu, and why the text was largely overlooked after the early Han period.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; New Ed edition (7 Dec 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231115652
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231115650
  • Product Dimensions: 23.5 x 15.7 x 1.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 492,570 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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In his rigorous scholarship of textual archaeology and mystical hermeneutics, Harold Roth has given us invaluable insights, the analytical tools and a perspective to examine the religious traditions of not only China, but of the rest of the world as well. -- Franklin J. Woo China Review International Searching for the origins of things remains a perennial favorite of Western scholars. For millennia, this quest has been at the core of innumerable scholarly projects... Harold Roth's Original Tao: Inward Training and the Foundations of Taoist Mysticism continues this time-honored investigation, applying it to Taoist mystical writings, in a search for what Roth calls 'the original tao.' -- John A. Tucker Philosophy East & West Here is a work that does justice to the beauty of this long poem, for so long neglected to the virtually exclusive benefit of Zhuangzi and Laozi... The reader will find in the quality of the textual edition, in the numerous translation discoveries, and in the willingness to provide maximum coherence to this text, a profound and original effort. -- Romain Graziani T'oung Pao An estimable achievement by one of the foremost scholars of early Taoism in North America... powerful and original. -- Paul Rakita Goldin Sino-Platonic Papers

About the Author

Harold D. Roth is professor of religious studies and East Asian studies at Brown University. He is the author of The Textual History of the Huai-Nan Tzu.

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During the past quarter century, a procession of long-lost texts has emerged from more than two millenia beneath the soils of China. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading for Daoist studies 8 Feb 2011
What I found most interesting was how this text was lost/burried/hidden for so long within an extensive treatise (comprising of several volumes) concerning politics and economics called the Kuan Tzu.

If Professor Roth is right (and he makes a very convincing argument that he is) then the Nei Ye (inner training) text/manual is even older than the classic Dao De Jing (Tao Te Ching) or the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) and contains some of the earliest and most profound articulations concerning the Dao (Tao- the Way).

The text (so beautifully translated) really helps to contextualise and clarify other texts and teachings on Daoist cultivation; specifically Neidan (Inner Alchemy) and Zuowang (sitting in oblivion meditation).

The discussions concerning the numinous, 'the mind within a mind' were particulary illuminating. The chapter on comparative mysticism was also brilliant; skilfully steering between the extremes of constructivism and perennialism.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At the origins of Taoist mysticism 13 April 2008
By Gavioli Maurizio - Published on Amazon.com
The centre of this 200-pages book is the critical edition of the Chinese text and the scholar translation of the Nei Ye (55 pages). Before and after this part, an introduction and 4 other chapters trace the history of the text, its contents and structure, its position in the context of the early Taoist mysticism and its position in the context of the early Taoism in general.

The Nei Ye is not a recent discovery; it was known since millennia but, buried in a supposed Confucian miscellany, its actual contents and significance have been since long overlooked. This book attempts, with success, to re-assess them, placing this work at the origins of Taoist mysticism, as the earliest extant text of the tradition which will later express more widely known works like Laozi and Zhuangzi.

"Original Tao" is a scholar book, it is not an 'easy' reading and the reader without any familiarity with ancient China's history and philosophy will be easily overwhelmed by the amount of names, data, quotations and so on.

On the other hand, its language is not too technical, and basic concepts are never taken for granted but appropriately introduced. And, above all, the new lights it casts on (and the grounds it provides for) the development of the early Taoist mysticism are for sure of great interest even to the layman who knows Taoism only through (more or less sound translations of) the Laozi and the Zhuangzi.

While not really new (it has now about 10 years), this book is definitely to recommend to anybody with a non-casual interest on Taoism.

The only (small) criticism I can make is the use of an old Chinese transliteration system instead of the now more widely used pinyin system.
25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent introduction to early Taoist thought 5 May 2000
By ACB - Published on Amazon.com
Original Tao is a wonderful translation of an often over-looked text. The verses contained within this short work rival and often surpass those found in the more well known Taoist classic, Lau-tzu.
In addition to the translation, Professor Roth's commentary on Chinese mysticism is phenomenal and provides an interesting back-drop to the history of Taoist thought.
I highly recommend this book to both newcomers and veterans of Taoism
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Original Tao 24 Aug 2007
By Donna J. Hastie - Published on Amazon.com
I have been a student of Taoism for over 40 years and try to accumulate as much literature on the subject as I can. This particular book is a very good find. I have been (and still am) enjoying it immensely. And Amazon.com helped me in finding this book at a great value.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A foundational text of early Taoism. 5 Mar 2000
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Original Tao provides a new translation and commentary which revise Taoism's origins and reflect new historic discoveries, uncovering the original expressions of Taoist philosophy and using original texts as masterworks for revision. From an introduction of short poetic verses devoted to meditation to the author's contention that the seminal Taoist work Inward Training is the foundational text of early Taoism, this provides an intriguing new examination.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another must for the student of the Tao 17 Sep 2013
By bushidokop - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Roth has done a tremendous service to humanity in this work. Through his diligent scholarship he has brought to life an obscure text that should have its place among the celebrated Taoist texts.

Roth begins with a deep digging into the history of this text. Though it doesn't have the heart of the text itself, it is definitely worth a read to find out the critical background of the text.

Next Roth offers his translation, which I found on point and beautiful. The final chapters offers his thematic review, which works also as sort of a commentary to the text.

I would highly recommend every practicing western Taoist to take a look. Though much of what is understood of the Tao has been written in the LaoTzu and Hua Hu Ching, this text gets to the heart of practice, and that is the development of inward training, and the supremacy of breathing meditation to align oneself with the "vital essence", as Roth put it.
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