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on 1 April 2012
The Tao Te Ching (pinyin: Daodejing) is a book of ancient Chinese philosophy, emphasising the understanding of, and the living in accordance with, the natural flow of nature. This natural flow is termed 'tao' which translates as the 'way', or 'path' - it is a road to be followed. Such a path, once discovered and adhered to, is said to be 'te', or 'virtuous' - therefore the title 'Tao Te Ching' means the 'Way of Virtue Classic'. As a distinct text it is central to Taoist thought and is believed to have been written by the ancient sage called Lao Tzu - the old, wise one. Although relatively brief,(it contains 81 short chapters), its philosophy has permeated Chinese thought for centuries. It is often referred to in Chinese as the 'Lao Tzu'.

The paperback (1974) edition contains 191 numbered pages, and contains an Introduction, the translated text (from Chinese into English), and two Appendices:

Introduction.
Lao Tzu Book One.
Lao Tzu Book Two.
List of Passages for Comparison.
Appendix 1) The Problem of Authorship.
Appendix 2) The Nature of the Work.
Chronological Table.
Glossary.
Notes.

The author - DC Lau - Din Cheuk Lau (1921-2010) was a British born Chinese academic and Chinese scholar. Being fluent in both English and Chinese, Lau was able to produce clear and concise English translations of important Chinese texts that are academically reliable. Like his other excellent translations, the Tao Te Ching appears in the Penguin Classics series. Translations of this kind, although they may appear common today, are nevertheless not easy to produce. However, Lau's perfect understanding of both the Chinese and English languishes allows him not only to translate, but also to correctly 'transliterate' the Chinese terms in a manner that retains and conveys the original message into English. The Tao Te Ching is actually two books combined; the first book is called the 'Tao Ching' (Way Classic) and consists of chapters 1 - 37. The second book is entitled the 'Te Ching' (Virtue Classic) and consists of chapters 38-81. The traditional view is that the man named Lao Tzu was an older contemporary of Confucius (551-479BCE), and that this text dates from that time. Interestingly, a biography of Lao Tzu can be found in the 'Shiji', or the 'Records of the Historian' - written in the first century BCE by the Han scholar Ssu-ma Ch'ien. The core of this work is undoubtedly ancient, and DC Lau produces here a translation that must be described as 'pristine'.
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This is the book (with a new cover) that introduced me to the Tao back in the 1960s. I was immediately much attracted to its contrarian and paradoxical nature. I can even recall being especially "enlightened" when reading Chapter XXXIII. (Lau uses old-fashioned Roman numerals.) I still have the Penguin Classics paperback from 1970 (5th printing) with its now yellowed pages. Here's that chapter as Lau expressed it:

"He who knows others is clever;
He who knows himself has discernment.
He who overcomes others has force;
He who overcomes himself is strong.

He who knows contentment is rich;
He who perseveres is a man of purpose;
He who does not lose his station will endure;
He who lives out his days has had a long life"

I kind of liked the tautology in the last line, but now believe that "He who overcomes himself is strong" is an understatement.

The "Center Tao" on the Web has the following as a word for word translation:

"Knowledge of people is resourceful,
Knowledge of self is honesty.
Victory over others is power,
Victory over self is striving.
Being content is wealth.
Striving to prevail is will.
Not losing place is endurance.
Dead, but not gone,
This is longevity."

Notice the contradictory sense in the last couplet: this is why something is always lost and/or gained in translation!

Here's how the gifted Stephen Mitchell handles the chapter (from his books "Tao Te Ching" (2006) and "Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu: An Illustrated Journey" (1999):

"Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever."

I like the "true wisdom" and "true power" of knowing and mastering yourself best.

Lau's book includes a 46-page Introduction; two appendices, one on "The Problem of Authorship," the other on "The Nature of the Work"; a list of passages for comparison; a chronological table; a glossary and several pages of endnotes. Lau refers to the book as "the Lao Tzu" and writes "...in Chinese there is no linguistic distinction between the two and so it is impossible to know whether it is the man or the book that is referred to when the name `Lao Tzu' occurs." (p. 15)

I want to add that if you're reading the Tao for the first time (or even the tenth) and find it a bit confusing and contradictory you are not alone. The exaggerations and understatements, the seeming contradictions and the sometimes outrageous claims fairly shock the intellect. But that is part of what the Tao is all about. Like Zen the "Lao Tzu" seeks to get us out of our ordinary minds and into a vaster, broader, more freewheeling and open-minded, more spontaneous grasp of things. And remember the Tao Te Ching is a poem and employs poetic devices to overcome the linear nature of prose. Therefore you should as a reader always consider that the denotative words you are reading may have multiple meanings and they may be being used symbolically. The famous "ten thousand things" can be much more than 10,000 or even less. They are "many." And the Way can be a path, a road or a way of life or something mysterious beyond all comprehension, or simply a wise rule of thumb. It can (and is) all of these and more.

So to really appreciate "Lao Tzu" takes a bit of time. So take your time. Savor it. Come back to it. Read other translations. Read the commentaries. You will be enlightened.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"
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on 6 January 2012
This version of the Tao Te Ching for me is a must have. Not because of the translation of the tao te ching itself - which in my opinion isn't one of the best - but because of the magnificent introduction of the book. The book is worth buying alone simply for it's introduction. Its introduction is only 45 pages long but it's one of the most insightful 45 pages you will ever read on the subject.
11 comment|8 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
This is the book that introduced me to the Tao back in the 1960s. I was immediately much attracted to its contrarian and paradoxical nature. I can even recall being especially "enlightened" when reading Chapter XXXIII. (Lau uses old-fashioned Roman numerals.) I still have the Penguin Classics paperback from 1970 (5th printing) with its now yellowed pages. Here's that chapter as Lau expressed it:

"He who knows others is clever;
He who knows himself has discernment.
He who overcomes others has force;
He who overcomes himself is strong.

He who knows contentment is rich;
He who perseveres is a man of purpose;
He who does not lose his station will endure;
He who lives out his days has had a long life"

I kind of liked the tautology in the last line, but now believe that "He who overcomes himself is strong" is an understatement.

The "Center Tao" on the Web has the following as a word for word translation:

"Knowledge of people is resourceful,
Knowledge of self is honesty.
Victory over others is power,
Victory over self is striving.
Being content is wealth.
Striving to prevail is will.
Not losing place is endurance.
Dead, but not gone,
This is longevity."

Notice the contradictory sense in the last couplet: this is why something is always lost and/or gained in translation!

Here's how the gifted Stephen Mitchell handles the chapter (from his books "Tao Te Ching" (2006) and "Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu: An Illustrated Journey" (1999):

"Knowing others is intelligence;
knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength;
mastering yourself is true power.

If you realize that you have enough,
you are truly rich.
If you stay in the center
and embrace death with your whole heart,
you will endure forever."

I like the "true wisdom" and "true power" of knowing and mastering yourself best.

Lau's book includes a 46-page Introduction; two appendices, one on "The Problem of Authorship," the other on "The Nature of the Work"; a list of passages for comparison; a chronological table; a glossary and several pages of endnotes. Lau refers to the book as "the Lao Tzu" and writes "...in Chinese there is no linguistic distinction between the two and so it is impossible to know whether it is the man or the book that is referred to when the name `Lao Tzu' occurs." (p. 15)

I want to add that if you're reading the Tao for the first time (or even the tenth) and find it a bit confusing and contradictory you are not alone. The exaggerations and understatements, the seeming contradictions and the sometimes outrageous claims fairly shock the intellect. But that is part of what the Tao is all about. Like Zen the "Lao Tzu" seeks to get us out of our ordinary minds and into a vaster, broader, more freewheeling and open-minded, more spontaneous grasp of things. And remember the Tao Te Ching is a poem and employs poetic devices to overcome the linear nature of prose. Therefore you should as a reader always consider that the denotative words you are reading may have multiple meanings and they may be being used symbolically. The famous "ten thousand things" can be much more than 10,000 or even less. They are "many." And the Way can be a path, a road or a way of life or something mysterious beyond all comprehension, or simply a wise rule of thumb. It can (and is) all of these and more.

So to really appreciate "Lao Tzu" takes a bit of time. So take your time. Savor it. Come back to it. Read other translations. Read the commentaries. You will be enlightened.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"
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on 5 March 2016
A 'factual' and excellent introduction by the author D C LAU should be the starting point, and perhaps a necessity, for understanding, for anyone approaching the Tao Te Ching. I'll not comment on the text translation as this is a matter of personal taste. The verses are given Roman numerals, but don't let this put you off (simply renumber 1 - 81 yourself). Lines within the verses are also given numbers which explains a lot about authorship, context, and coherence, of the work. A silly cover (?), but a really great work !
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on 8 December 2013
It is a fantastic presentation of Chinese philosophy, in a very approachable manner, followed by the original text. It`s not easy to read, however, some essential thoughts has been expressed, which helped me to get over an nervouse brake down. I have had a lot of problems with my ignorant colleagues. This book helped me understand them and myself, and now I`m ready to get over it. Thank you
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on 8 November 2002
As a 14 year old teenager some people may believe that the finest of philosphical literature cannot be enjoyed. I believe that is rubbish, this book, in all its nonsensical ravings makes the most sense of any book I have ever read. The paradoxes brought up in this book are endless yet come to an end, and in one reading, i found myself willing to submit my mind further to the teachings and ideas that are risen in this book. A truly fine example of what is surely not a dying subject of philosophy.Read this book and it will change your behavior for the better. You will realise that there is a way that is right and it is not difficult to follow.
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on 18 September 2012
This book has been reviewed thousands of times and really doesn't need another one from me. I find it amazing andilluminating that much of it also appears in the New Teatament. Could the wise men have brouht it when they arrived in Israel to visit himself? That would explain a lot. Or did those who re-wrote the bible incorporate it? Who knows?
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on 17 February 2016
Probably the best and most informative English translation ever, in my humble opinion. Clear and concise and retaining all the beauty and subtly of the original Chinese text. There is a good, informative introduction, written by someone who really knows his subject. A volume to treasure and to guide.
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on 14 May 2016
Recommended by a friend but I'm not too
impressed with the translations. As a native Chinese, I can and have read a few books on Dao De Jing in Chinese. The translation hasn't bought out the essence of Lao Tzu and there is no explanation or elaboration of the true philosophy.
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