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.
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.
Soft water goes around hard rock. Who wins?
Hand-watercolored, Destroyed SINTRA Block Print
13 x 9 in.
Edition: 10/10 – $120 – 9 available
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I was dissatisfied with my words on the first piece, so here’s the final version. From an ongoing mental series – Interpretations of the Tao Te Ching – Verse 78 speaks to one of the underlying threads of the Tao Te Ching – water. Water is ubiquitous – we are made of it, our planet is covered in it, without it there would be no life. Though its nature is yielding, it always prevails. A slow drip will eventually carve out a stone. Though it naturally sinks to the lowest levels, it remains unchanged. These are valuable lessons, lessons that master negotiators know well and lessons that true leaders utilize in caring for their people.
Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water,
Yet nothing can better overcome the hard and strong,
For they can neither control nor do away with it.
The soft overcomes the hard,
The yielding overcomes the strong;
Every person knows this,
But no one can practice it.
Who attends to the people would control the land and grain;
Who attends to the state would control the whole world;
Truth is easily hidden by rhetoric.
No. 31 from the Tao Te Ching
No. 11 – Value Emptiness
Monotype, Destroyed Block SINTRA, Silkscreen
7.5 x 30 in.
Edition: 11/11 – 8 available – $175
This piece was inspired by two things. 1) Verse 11 from the Tao Te Ching which speaks of understanding that sometimes it is the open space inside something that makes it useful. And 2) My frustration at paying for a parking permit at George Mason University, yet never being able to find a space.
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