What’s next? No. 50/Tao Te Ching

I open my favorite translation of the Tao Te Ching – the dog-eared, highlighted, scribbledy one – the one with the verse in Mandarin on the right page, and the translation in English on the left. It’s a bigger book, 8 1/2 x 11 inches, so there’s room for lots of the thoughtful black and white images that must’ve inspired the authors when they were putting this book together. I love this idea, the idea of these two authors thinking about this project – not only the translation of Mandarin to English , but the design and layout of the whole book; which images go where as a visual aid to help me (I imagine) more fully understand the verse. Because translation is an interesting thing – especially from a pictorial language to a linear one. Since I only read English, I can only imagine what was lost when the original Mandarin character was flattened and shoved into an ABC-toe-the-line.

From another favorite book, The Book of Tea:

Translation is always a treason, and as a Ming author observes, can at its best be only the reverse side of a brocade – all the threads are there, but not the subtlety of color or design.

This is especially apparent to me in my meditations of this favorite book of mine.  I have about 13 versions – always searching for others.  When I’m thinking about a verse, I always read as many interpretations as I can – and I feel a connection with all those seekers before me. I’m amazed at the nuances between them all. None are right, none are wrong. All are insightful.

“Open” is perhaps too strong a word. I let the book choose where to part. You’d think it would always choose the same  stretched out, scribbled on pages, but it rarely does. So today, the book fell open to No. 50. I’ve thought about this one before.  I think it speaks to the nature of men – some are optimistic, some are pessimistic and some just live.  At first blush, perhaps “optimistic” sounds like the healthiest option of the three – but I don’t think this is the case. Optimists and pessimists are two sides of the same coin.  They both live in false worlds of hope – hope for good and hope for bad. Would either exist without the other?

I choose the third option.

No. 50

Between birth and death,
Three in ten are followers of life,
Three in ten are followers of death,
And men just passing from birth to death also number three in ten.
Why is this so?
Because they live their lives on the gross level.
He who knows how to live can walk abroad
Without fear of rhinoceros or tiger.
He will not be wounded in battle.
For in him rhinoceroses can find no place to thrust their horn,
Tigers no place to use their claws,
And weapons no place to pierce.
Why is this so?
Because he has no place for death to enter.

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2 responses

  1. You make me want to study it, too. I love this: “None are right. None are wrong. All are insightful.” Over the last 13 years or so, I’ve spent a good amount of time reading and searching for translations of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (circling back around, always, to the first translation I ever read, which was Stephen Mitchell’s). The search is everything, though.

    March 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

  2. Thanks Jennifer. I find it gives my busy mind something to think about other than this swiftly tilting planet.

    And the search, indeed, might be the most important part of the journey.

    March 29, 2011 at 2:47 pm

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