“What a beautiful translation.”
“…absolutely love this.”
—responses to excerpt on Parabola magazine’s Facebook page
To rest in Dao means fulfillment, wholeness, one’s destination reached, one’s mission done; the beginning, end, and perfect realization of the meaning of existence innate in all things.
From the book: Introduction
There’s a reason that Laozi’s Dao De Jing is one of the world’s most translated and popular pieces of literature. Not only does each translator produce a new understanding, so does each reader. That’s because the path, the Dao, is as personal as it is universal.
This new translation from the Chinese retains the beauty and nuances of the original Chinese text, while remaining as true to its meaning as possible. The goal was to make a clear translation, while allowing mystery to continue to curl through each chapter like fragrant incense. The subject matter—human nature and the workings of the universe—is as relevant to the present as it was to the past, as it will be to the future. Though written twenty-five hundred years ago, these eighty-one short chapters can still change a reader’s life.
It’s worth noting that the third-person-singular pronoun in Chinese is gender-neutral. Using the conventional default of their era, the earliest English translators chose the words he and him. Subsequent interpretations were often based on these early translations, inadvertently maintaining the original bias. A modern translation of the Dao De Jing calls for less convention and more awareness, starting with an awareness of the text’s high regard for the feminine.
Philosophy, religion, mysticism, spirituality… these are simply words, of which the Dao De Jing is rightly cautious. Beginning with the first chapter, it is obvious that the Dao, the mysterious path, is something that can be pointed at, but not pinned down. The Dao is as fluid as a butterfly flapping its dazzling wings. Pinning it down is the beginning of labels with words, and the end of movement.
Perspective is key, but, as Laozi says, There’s no way for a fish to step back from its lake. Still, the Dao De Jing manages to provide a startling look at life from outside of our daily comfort zone, giving insight on such topics as how to live, relationships with others, attaining goals, war and peace. Far from meeting preconceptions, the text is meant to surprise the reader, leading to a reperception, reevaluation, and reconsideration of what has until then been taken for granted.
No need to leave home to travel down this path. Those who are flexible and kind, those who do what’s only natural, will find it as close as a heartbeat, as far-reaching as the end of the universe.
Chapter 1: Crooked Cup of Awe
A path that can take you places
is not a continuing path.
A name that can describe things
is not an eternal description.
There’s no way to describe
the beginning of the universe.
Description is the source of all things.
Forget about desire
if you want to see wonders,
or indulge in desire
if you’d rather admire distinctions.
Both awe and water pour from
the same spout, yet how different
they seem after they’re out.
You might call their similarity
a dark mystery.
Darkness as darkness
as doorway to mystery.