Thursday, August 6, 2009

Fun with Tao

My Tao Lite project is still in action. I went to the library and checked out Jonathan Star’s ‘Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition.’ It includes a table of all the Chinese characters for a particular verse along with several possible translations. Very helpful.

For example, here’s my Lite translation of Verse 8:
As truth, like water, one helps all, vies w/ none, lives low. As Tao. All has its truth. By not resisting, one is free from illusion.

Each word in such a short translation is very meaningful, of course. Ellen Chen comments that ‘shan’ which she translates as ‘good’ is used nine times in this verse, obviously highlighting its importance, and so I use it twice. Accordingly, it’s imperative the right translation is used. I feel ‘good’ is not exactly right here: too dualistic a connotation. Star indicates that the actual meaning of the word is more like ‘dharma.’ Thus, I prefer to use ‘truth,’ something in the middle of those two.

However, the last word, ‘yu,’ is translated sometimes as ‘falsehood’ (also, confirming the use of ‘truth’) or 'error.' But in keeping with the nondual spirit of the Tao, I think ‘illusion’ works much better. A little translator’s license.

For comparison, here’s Stephen Mitchell’s translation:
The supreme good is like water,
which nourishes all things without trying to.
It is content with the low places that people disdain.
Thus it is like the Tao.

In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don't try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.

When you are content to be simply yourself
and don't compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.

Of course, not being restricted to Twitter length, Mitchell waxes poetic as does Lao Tzu (I was forced to sum up the second stanza as ‘All has its truth.’) But I’m dissatisfied with Mitchell's translation of this verse now (and surprisingly much of the rest of his translations, which at one time I loved), especially the last line, which I believe misses the point.

I'd love to find a translation with an appropriate nondual interpretation. Stay tuned; still looking.

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