Top positive review
A Book for the Ages
Reviewed in the United States on September 14, 2019
This book, translated by Stephen Mitchell, is a work of art. Some Chinese scholars have criticized Mitchell's translation as not being "true" to the original Chinese text. However, for the lay reader, this criticism misses the mark. First, any ancient work relies on manuscripts that were written well after the original texts and during this gap the original text(s) were undoubtedly edited or suffered transcription errors. This is as true of the Tao Te Ching as it is for the Gospels. Secondly, the original manuscripts very likely relied on an oral history which is forever beyond our reach. In this sense, the Tau Te Ching might be compared to "Q" in the Gospels. Thirdly, and this applies to all ancient books of wisdom, it is not possible for a person of the twenty-first century to place themselves in 5th century BCE China (or first century Palestine for that matter). There are just too many fundamental differences, including but not limited to language, science and technology, life span, economics, customs, values, and social organization. We experience the world in a particular context and our cultural lenses limit our capacity to perceive the world the way others who lived in a vastly different culture did. So, from my perspective, it is as futile to seek the original and "true" meaning of the Tao Te Ching as t is try to understand what it is like to be a bat (Thomas Nagle). Mitchell is sensitive to the mountain of challenges in translating this ancient text and candid regarding the methods and texts he relied on. Among all of these methods he shares it was his fourteen years of intensive Zen (Ch'an) training, which "...brought me face to face with Lau Tzu and his true deciples and heirs, the early Chinese Zen Masters". He never tried to merely translate Lau Tzu's words but rather to translate his "mind". In the end, each reader will have to decide for themselves the value that this book holds for them. There are many translations to chose from and it is prudent to read others as well. For me, this translation is a masterpiece, a book that I treasure, and one that I will read again and again...
Finally, I want to comment on this particular publication of the Tao Te Ching. This hard bound, illustrated volume was published in 1999 by France's Lincoln Ltd. The most complementary thing I can say is that the publisher produced a book that is worthy of the text. The illustrations, compiled by Stephen Little, beautifully compliment the text and provide an ambiance for contemplation. I almost never purchase a physical book and rely on my tablet for virtually all of my reading. But not this time. This is a book to hold in your hands and savor.