Thomas Cleary, a recognised and respected scholar on Eastern religions and philosophies, is an acknowledged master also of translation from classic Chinese and Japanese tests. If one seeks out English translations of The Taoist 'I Ching' or 'The Art of War,' Cleary's version is probably the edition most likely to be found.
Thus, the work in this book, 'The Essential Tao,' an initiation into the heart of Taoism through the authentic 'Tao Te Ching' and the inner teachings of 'Chuang Tzu,' carries a great pedigree. It fully lives up to expectations. These two works, which together describe the essentials of the philosophy and practice of Tao, impart great wisdom and insight, and Cleary's translation keeps much of the distinctiveness of the original Chinese.
The 'Tao Te Ching' and 'Chuang Tzu' cover a wide array of topics, from traditionally religious subjects such as mysticism, spirituality, morality, and cosmology, to more practical matters such as politics, economics, and even how to manage stress in a stress-filled world (which may account for the rise in popularity of Eastern philosophies as we hurry toward a 24-hour non-stop economy).
'Few of the world's great books have achieved the perennial currency of these writings. Countless readers have found endless fascination and enlightenment in the pregnant aphorisms and fantastic allegories of these ancient texts.'
Those who mastered the teachings of the Tao Te Ching, the teachings and wisdom of Lao-tzu, the Old Master, were sought after as advisors, spiritual leaders, mentors, and administrators. According to the ethos of Tao, the developments, insights and wisdom gained from following Tao must be shared, put to the service of all.
'The Way is unimpeded harmony;
its potential may never be fully exploited.
It is as deep as the source of all things:
it blunts the edges,
resolves the complications,
harmonises the light,
assimilates to the world.
Profoundly still, it seems to be there:
I don't know whose child it is,
before the creation of images.'
Some of the aphorisms read as proverbs:
'To speak rarely is natural.
That is why a gusty wind doesn't last the morning,
a downpour of rain doesn't last the day.'
'Be tactful and you remain whole;
bend and you remain straight.
The hollow is filled,
the old is renewed.'
These are hopes and promises of many religions, and the goal of many sciences and philosophies.
The second work, the Chuang Tzu, is a great work of Chinese literature, in addition to being a source of Taoist wisdom. Written by Chuang Chou, the first Taoist master and scholar of the teachings of Lao-tzu, this work has allegories and symbols that have been contemplated since it was first written. Chuang Chou lived at a rather more turbulent time than Lao-tzu, and because of his learning, was sought after as advisors to kings, but declined, preferring not to become, as he put it, a sacrificial animal.
Chuang Chou looked for freedom in many ways, psychological and social as well as political. He looked for freedom from tyranny of emotions, social convention, intellect, and even from death. Chuang Tzu consists of three sections, the inner, outer and miscellaneous chapters. This work of Cleary's contains the inner chapters, a basic core of his philosophy and symbolism.
'If all is one, can anything be said? Once it has been said that all is one, can nothing be said? Unity and speech make two; two plus one make three. What follows cannot be grasped even by skilled calculators, much less by ordinary people.'
'Therefore when you go from nonbeing to being, you thereby come to a third point. How about when you go from being to being! It is simply for this reason that there is no getting anywhere.'
Chuang Chou recounts the tale of the maestros, who each knew his field (a harpist, a tuner, and a philosopher) -- they were successful, and known to posterity. Their devotion set them apart. However, they wanted to teach, but tried to explain what they could not fully understand, and thus slipped into sophistry. Thus, when their culture died, so did their memory. Can this, Chuang Chou asks, be counted as success?
However, 'the aim of sages is for diffused brilliance: they do not employ it for affirmation, but entrust it to the constant. This is called using clarity.'
Cleary concludes with translation notes -- Chinese being quite distinct from English, and the concepts here being subtle, the possibility for confusion is magnified moreso than a translation from another European language into English. These translator notes are useful to see the complexity of thinking in the simplest thoughts.
May this help you find your Tao, your Way.