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on 3 November 1998
When my wife Sandy was diagnosed with terminal cancer, this is the ONE book she kept nearby at home and in the hospital. She found great comfort in it words and wisdom.
When she died I picked it up and began to read. Several passages fell right open (8 & 16). These were the passages that she must have been reading the most. So I read those passages at her funeral. I'm still reading this book and finding something new with each reading. Even if a passage may not make sense on the first or second reading, it may become clear by the fifth or sixth. Or maybe it will take years.
Sandy was a poet and teacher who studied many translations of the Tao, but this was her favorite. It may not be the most literal translation, but it surely is the most poetic. If this translation was good enough for her, then it's good enough for me.
In fact, this book is so good, I've given away at least 8 copies in the two months since her death. This book has helped me deal with and survive the most difficult time in my life. I'm much wiser and more open having read this book. My friends to whom I've given copies agree and are sharing it with their friends.
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on 27 March 2007
Please be aware that this paperback version is the text only and does not include any of Jane English's beautiful black and white photographs. It is only 107 pages and not 144 as stated on Amazon. Its a nice pocket size travel companion but unfortunately it's not all that I was expecting. I wish I didn't have to be so negative about such an influencial and enlightening text, however the description of this edition of the book is not complete on Amazon and I wish other potential buyers to be aware before they buy.
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on 21 May 2008
If you're looking for a literal translation of the TTC then this isn't it - however, it's way more readable than other versions. I think Stephen Mitchell explains himself very well in his Forward:

"With great poetry, the freest translation is sometimes the most faithful. 'We must try its effect as an English Poem,' Dr Johnson said; 'that is the way to judge of the merit of a translation'. I have often been fairly literal - or as literal as one can be with such a subtle, kaleidoscopic book as the Tao Te Ching. But I have also paraphrased, expanded, contracted, interpreted, worked with the text, played with it, until it became embodied in a language that felt genuine to me. If I haven't always translated Lao Tzu's words, my intention has always been to translate his mind."

And I think he does a damn good job. You can compare his translation of verse 15 with the James Legge version below, for example. I know which translation I prefer.


"The skilful masters (of the Tao) in old times, with a subtle
and exquisite penetration, comprehended its mysteries, and were deep
(also) so as to elude men's knowledge. As they were thus beyond men's
knowledge, I will make an effort to describe of what sort they
appeared to be.

Shrinking looked they like those who wade through a stream in
winter; irresolute like those who are afraid of all around them; grave
like a guest (in awe of his host); evanescent like ice that is melting
away; unpretentious like wood that has not been fashioned into
anything; vacant like a valley, and dull like muddy water.

Who can (make) the muddy water (clear)? Let it be still, and it
will gradually become clear. Who can secure the condition of rest?
Let movement go on, and the condition of rest will gradually arise.

They who preserve this method of the Tao do not wish to be full (of
themselves). It is through their not being full of themselves that
they can afford to seem worn and not appear new and complete."


"The ancient Masters were profound and subtle.
Their wisdom was unfathomable.
There is no way to describe it;
all we can describe is their appearance.

They were careful
as someone crossing an iced-over stream.
Alert as a warrior in enemy territory.
Courteous as a guest.
Fluid as melting ice.
Shapable as a block of wood.
Receptive as a valley.
Clear as a glass of water.

Do you have the patience to wait
till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?

The Master doesn't seek fulfillment.
Not seeking, not expecting,
she is present, and can welcome all things."
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on 28 April 1999
Why read a version of the Tao Teh Ching translated by some American who thought Taoism was something "exotic" when you can have this one--written by an earthy man born and raised in Ningpo? As Wu once said of himself, "I was initiated early into the mysteries of paradox."
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on 14 February 2002
This is one of the most profound books I have ever read. It is concise yet incredbly rich in ideas. Lao Tzu`s philosophy is close to nature, we should be like water, he says, not resisting gravity. The Taoist attitude is quite different from the modern one. While we seek distraction in television and radio, Lao Tzu says;
"The five colours blind men`s eyes
The five tones deafen men`s ears".
He recommends that we stay in touch with non-existence, rather than trying "to be someone".
There is so much wisdom here that I cannot begin to give a sense of it all. Whenever I have a problem this is always a reliable source of support and guidance. This edition includes an excellent introduction and commentary by Richard Wilhelm.
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There are several books by the amazing Stephen Mitchell on the "Tao Te Ching." The two that I know--this one and his Harper Perennial "Tao Te Ching" (2006)--use his free-flowing and poetic translation from 1988. This book is also distinguished by the beautiful artwork on Taoist themes selected by Stephen Little.

Mitchell is a master at turning religious works into contemporary English poetry while being essentially true to the original. Noteworthy is his graceful translation of the Gita in "Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation" (2000). However Mitchell does not know Chinese and therefore in effect is interpreting translations augmented by his scholarship and literary experience. Some people find this off-putting but I think it's okay as long as you are not looking for most faithful to the "original" rendering.

I have read the Tao in several English translations (or renderings) and I can say that Mitchell's is one of the best. By "best" I mean as a work of religious literature that is essentially true to the meaning and spirit of the original. It is interesting in this regard to note that Mitchell wrote that "...the most essential preparation for my work was a fourteen-year-long course of Zen training, which brought me face to face with Lao-tzu and his true disciples and heirs, the early Chinese Zen Masters."

Mitchell adds (in true Taoist paradoxical style) "With great poetry, the freest translation is sometimes the most faithful... If I haven't always translated Lao-tzu's words, my intention has always been to translate his mind." (The quotes are from the Foreword he wrote for the Harper Perennial book mentioned above.)

A nearly instant test of a rendering of the "Tao" is a quick look at the opening couplet and at one or two of the most famous stanzas. Here's Mitchell's opening couplet:

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name."

For comparison let's look at some other translations. Here's J. Legge's version (from "Sacred Books of the East," Volume 39 1891):

"The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name."

There's a clear difference in the first line. Mitchell writes of the tao being told (small "t" indicating not the eternal Tao) while Legge refers to a "Tao" that can be walked upon not being the real unchanging Tao.

Since I don't read Chinese I don't know which is truer to the original text--or actually texts since translators who do read the Chinese characters typically rely on several versions. The simple truth is nobody knows what the "original" "Tao Te Ching" looked like. In fact it almost certainly came down from an earlier oral tradition. Consequently a free translation may indeed be the "best."

Okay, let's now look at another translation of the first two lines, this time by Derek Lin from his book, "Tao Te Ching: Annotated and Explained" (2006):

"The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name"

This is virtually the same as Mitchell's rendering.

One more, this time from Robert G. Henricks' "Lao-Tzu Te-Tao Ching: A New Translation Based on the Recently Discovered Ma-Wang-Tui Texts" (1989):

As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names the name that can be named is not the constant name."

This examination of fine points of course is contrary to the Way (not to mention Zen) now that I think about it. Still it is fun to do. So let's do one more. Here are Mitchell's first few lines of the famous Chapter 41:

"When a superior man hears of the Tao,
he immediately begins to embody it.
When an average man hears of the Tao,
he half believes it, half doubts it.
When a foolish man hears of the Tao,
he laughs out loud.
If he didn't laugh,
it wouldn't be the Tao."

Here's Legge's version:

Scholars of the highest class, when they hear about the Tao,
earnestly carry it into practice. Scholars of the middle class, when
they have heard about it, seem now to keep it and now to lose it.
Scholars of the lowest class, when they have heard about it, laugh
greatly at it. If it were not (thus) laughed at, it would not be fit
to be the Tao.

And here is Lin's version:

"Higher people hear of the Tao
They diligently practice it
Average people hear of the Tao
They sometimes keep it and sometimes lose it
Lower people hear of the Tao
They laugh loudly at it
If they do not laugh, it would not be the Tao"

My vote is for Mitchell's "freer" version.

One of the things I don't like about Mitchell's translation is his alternative use of the pronouns "he" and "she." It's a shame that English does not have a gender neutral first person singular; however I think that, since the "Tao Te Ching" is the most feminine of all the great religious works of the world added to the fact that the Tao is itself considered feminine, Mitchell should have gone exclusively with "she."

Finally what I want to say is that what Mitchell brings to the translation of the "Tao Te Ching" is vast poetic and spiritual experience. When he says he was "face to face" with Lao-tzu he means that everything he had learned in his life up to that time allowed him to understand the old master in a way that a less experienced person could not.

--Dennis Littrell, author of "Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)"
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VINE VOICEon 13 June 2010
I keep a collection of small books in various jacket pockets & find them very useful for when I'm bored or in need of spiritual input. This particular version of the Tao Te Ching IS one of those small (11cm x 7cm) books that fits in your pocket & yet can be brought out as a quick read/ refresher.

And, having read a few translations, I've found this to be one of the clearest & most eloquent. The meaning is always understandable & the pithy richness of Taoist thought comes across so powerfully, that it only takes 1 or 2 verses for feelings of joy, enlightenment & inner peace to start coursing over you.

The one downside is that there is no commentary or index. If you are just starting out on your Taoist journey, then I'd recommend Wayne Dyer's Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao first, and then have this as a top-up for Lunch breaks & times when you have a minute or two to spare.

Needless to say, my version is filled with underlining & notes, as I always find the clear expression of concepts so wise, profound & insightful that I dare not trust my Swiss-Cheese memory with losing them!

Anyway, if you're looking for an excellent pocket version of the Tao Te Ching, then this comes thoroughly recommended. If you're looking for a different interpretation & space isn't an issue, then I've found this version: Tao Te Ching equally powerful.

And whatever happens, I wish you luck on your journey towards spiritual enlightenment.
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on 5 March 1999
Mitchell's work is not for purists of textual criticism or hermeneutics. Literal translations of ancient documents tend to be dry and awkward. Mitchell's loose paraphrase and notes are refreshing and agreeable. The spirit of this work is both heartfelt and delightful. It is a joy to read.
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on 5 March 2014
In my humble opinion, the author of this particular translation has deviated too much from the intentions of Lao Tsu. Let us compare the opening lines of Verse 1:

Here it is as printed in this book:

"The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named
is not the eternal name

The unnameable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin
of all particular things."

- And here is a more faithfully accurate translation of the same lines (translated by James Legge for the Cleveland Museum of Art):

"The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

Conceived of as having no name, it is the Originator of Heaven and Earth;
conceived of as having a name, it is the Mother of all things."

I think you will agree that the more faithful version has a deeper, more poetic resonance that informs much more about the quintessential nature of the Tao. I think the author has been too terse; probably a result of his long exposure to Zen, which is, after all, as different from the Tao as chalk is from cheese. Note that significantly, the author has omitted from his translation the words 'Heaven', 'Earth' and 'Mother' that are vital, scene-setting lynch-pins in the original.

For me though, the most irritating aspect of this book is that the author chose not to adopt the time-honoured and well understood convention of assuming that wherever the word 'he' appears in text and does not specifically refer to a named male individual, the word 'she' is also implied and on equal terms. Instead, he has randomly substituted the word 'she' for 'he' throughout the verses. Not only is this highly patronising to members of the fairer sex, who have no difficulty in appreciating the value of conventional form, it is also totally at odds with the original Chinese and creates unnecessary confusion wherever the word 'she' occurs, because of the many references in the Tao to the Great Mother. How is a reader to judge if this or that occurrence of 'she' actually refers to the Great Mother or to a person of unspecified gender? For me, it disrupts the flow of the verses and makes a nonsense of the whole thing.
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on 20 December 1997
I am 14 years old and I am new to Taoism. I have read this book and it has given me a new philosophy on life. I have read other interpretations and translations of the Tao te Ching and this is easiest to understand. That is especially good for young people like me. I understand the way life works and the Way itself much better. I hope to be a taoist all my life and be very experienced and knowledgable. I am also interested in I-Ching, Tarot, runecraft (runes), and symbolism.
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