Dao De Jing: The Book of the Way by Laozi, translation and commentary by Moss Roberts (University of California Press) is one of the richest, most suggestive, and most popular works of philosophy and literature. Composed in China between the late sixth and the late fourth centuries b.c., its enigmatic verses have inspired artists, philosophers, poets, religious thinkers, and general readers down to our own times. This new translation, both revelatory and authentic, captures much of the beauty and nuance of the original work. In an extensive and accessible commentary to his translation, Moss Roberts reveals new depths of Dao De Jing.
This edition is distinguished by the literary quality of the translation, its new renderings for a number of the stanzas, and by Roberts's knowledgeable contextualizations. Utilizing recently discovered manuscripts and Chinese scholarship based on them, he is able to shed new light on the work's historical and philosophical contexts. This translation shows that Dao De Jing is far more than a work of personal inspiration; it is also a work of universal scope that makes penetrating comments on politics, statecraft, cosmology, aesthetics, and ethics. Roberts brings these themes to our attention, shows how they are integrated into the work as a whole, and demonstrates the relevance of these topics for our own times.
Excerpt: The poems and sayings of the mysterious book of wisdom called Dao De Jing have powerfully affected many aspects of Chinese philosophy, culture, and society. In the realm of aesthetics the idea of Dao, or the Way, a transcendent natural principle working through all things, has inspired artists and poets, who have sought to represent nature in its raw wholeness or have depicted vast landscapes within which human structures and pathways, overwhelmed by mists, mountain faces, and water vistas, hold a tiny and precarious place. With regard to personal spiritual cultivation Daoism offers techniques of concentration and self-control, while in the realm of physiology the Daoist theory of natural cycles points toward systems of internal circulation and techniques of rejuvenation. In its ethical application Daoism teaches self-subordination and frugality and warns of the self-defeating consequences of assertiveness and aggrandizement, whether political, military, or personal.
In the realm of governance political theorists influenced by Laozi have advocated humility in leadership and a restrained and concessive approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons or for tactical ends. The well-known line that opens stanza 60, "Rule a great state as you cook a small fish," has been used in China and in the West as an argument for a "light touch" in governing: the Way creates sufficient order. In a different political context, one mediated by legalist theories of government, a transcendent Way has served to legitimate state builders in constructing impersonal institutions and formulating all-powerful laws. Indeed the marriage of the Way with law (fa) is one of the earliest transformations and adaptations of Laozi's thought. On the popular level, by contrast, various anti-authoritarian movements have embraced the Dao De Jing's teachings on the power of the weak.
Thus the Dao De Jing, in the world of philosophy a small kingdom in its own right, has spawned diverse schools of thought, and these have elaborated upon and spread widely the original teachingsoften in ways that might have surprised or distressed their creator.
The Dao De Jing has so wide a compass that it is difficult to think of a comparable work in the Western canon. Passages on nature's patterns of motion and their indifference to man's purposes may evoke for a Western reader themes and language found in Lucretius and his model, Epicurus. If some stanzas concerning statecraft and tactical maneuver suggest Machiavelli, others suggest Gandhi, who personified in his leadership principled humility, minimal struggle, and simplicity of lifestyle. For some readers Laozi's aphorisms and resigned reflections on human life may evoke lines in Ecclesiastes or Proverbs. Comparisons have also been made with Thoreau's warnings about economic overdevelopment and government..
With so many English versions of the Dao De Jing, why another? There is much of value in most of the English translations, but each is only partially successful. The synergy of the work's themes as well as the concision of its phrasing make many of its stanzas so ambiguous and suggestive that definitive interpretation, much less translation, has often proved unattainable. Rendering in another language a work that says so much in so few words, and about whose meanings scholars differ greatly, can only be problematic. Even in Chinese, many Dao De Jing passages seem like paintings of striking detail that compel the gaze but always remain partly out of focus. Each translator tries to refine the images or to find fresh language to capture the power of Laozi's gnomic lines. In the end, however, the only justification I can offer for a new attempt is that it is meant not only to improve but to be improved upon. The cumulative effect of multiple translations contributes to the understanding of the Laozi, just as the ongoing performance tradition of musical works yields new possibilities of expression and appreciation.What this version seeks is, first, to bring out the Dao De Jing's political and polemical purposes by situating it in the context of the philosophical debates that raged from the time of Confucius down to the unification of the empire in 221 b.c. Second, it attempts to reproduce the condensed aphoristic force of Laozi's style, the appeal of his intriguing and often indeterminate syntax, and the prevalence of rhymed verse in his original. Unlike most translators, I have avoided relying on prose. Third, in the comments and notes to the stanzas I have included material from recently discovered textsthe two Mawangdui versions, which were published in 1973, and the Guodian version, published in 1998. In this way the reader can learn something about the differences between versions of the text and weigh for himself or herself the significance of the variations in wording and, perhaps more importantly, the differences in the actual number and sequence of the stanzas.
The Daodejing of Laozi Lieh-tzu: A Taoist Guide to Practical Living edited and translated by Eva Wong (Shambhala) This collection of stories and philosophical musings of a sage of the same name who lived around the fourth century B.C.E. The subject of Lieh-tzu's teachings range from the origin and purpose of life, the Taoist view of reality, and the nature of enlightenment to the training of the body and mind, communication, and the importance of personal freedom. This distinctive translation presents Lieh-tzu as a friendly, intimate companion speaking directly to the reader in a contemporary voice about matters relevant to our everyday lives.
insert content here