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Home > Newsletters > November 2006 > Revealing the Tao Te Ching

Revealing the Tao Te Ching - (In-depth commentaries on an ancient classic)

Translation and Commentary by Hu Xuezhi
Edited by Jesse Lee Parker
Book Review by: Ed Shaheen

There are many English translations of the Tao Te Ching. In fact, it is one of the most frequently translated works other than the Bible. This classic dates to 500 B.C. and was attributed to Lao Tzi. While the original work is relatively short, it presents a conflict of logic to the western mind, which can be very thought provoking. After all, “The Tao that can be spoken of is not the eternal Tao.”

Revealing the Tao Te Ching provides a bridge to understanding the ancient text by putting it into an historical and cultural context. The two hundred page volume, published by Ageless Classics Press, contains more than the usual translation; it is also a discussion of Taoism as understood by Master Hu, a senior Taoist teacher, who lives in Anshan in northeast China.

The book begins with didactic discussion of basic Taoist beliefs in a prologue on “Retracing the footprints back to the very beginning...” This includes a very detailed description of Taoist concepts of life and death, the one and the many, and the retracing of our footsteps backwards to regain the state of Infinite Emptiness, etc. I found the prologue to be quite intense, with enough material to form the basis of one or more separate books. Many technical terms are introduced here and are repeated at the end of the book in a glossary which I found very helpful.

The next section deals with Master Hu’s translation of the actual text, together with a line-by-line commentary. His commentaries are instructive and help put the text in its cultural and historical perspective. One example of this can be found in chapter thirty-one on the subject of war. The author quotes the original text, “The followers of Tao prefer the position of the left; the people of war prefer the position of the right.” In his commentary, he goes on to discuss that “the left position is symbolic of an east orientation, which is of a wood nature...the right position is of a west orientation, which is of a metal nature.” Who would think that one could find such a reflection of our modern day terms in such an ancient text?

Master Hu’s translation has some interesting nuisances that I have not seen in other translations. There are some 53 illustrations throughout the book and a short bibliography at the end, but no index. I am new to the study of the Tao and this appears to be a good basic place to start. I judge it to be of interest to those who want to learn more about the origins of Taoism and the present day understanding of it.

Revealing the Tao Te Ching

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