There are many legends about Lao Tze, credited with writing the Tao Te Ching, and till now it is still a mystery about his birth and name. The legend said that his mother was pregnant for 81 years and delivered a grey-haired boy around 571 B.C. “Lao” means old and “Tze” means child and that is why we called him Lao Tze meaning Old Child.
“Tao” means the source of all, the roots of universe, the Truth or the Way. Lao Tze defined Tao as non-descriptive truth. It has no form or substance, yet it creates and cultivates Heaven and Earth. It has no favors, thus it governs the law and order of the cosmos. It has no name, but it gives life to and nourishes all beings. It is so mystical and powerful, there is no proper word to represent it.
“Te” means if “Tao” is the truth or the root of a tree, then “Te” is similar to the branch and leaves. Without Tao, Te cannot exist at all. When we put Tao Te together, it means morals. Morals come from our inner source or heart. If our inner source is polluted, then we have no morals and if our inner source is pure, then we are full of morals.
Tao Te Ching
“Ching” means the path or what we experienced.
When we combine the three words together, “Tao Te Ching,” it actually means what we experienced from Tao and Te or what we are going to experience from Tao and Te. “Ching” is not a theory or a talking but a real thing to be experienced with unlimited actions. Tao Te Ching was simplified into 5,000 words without explanations and there are eighty-one chapters and some are quite hard to understand. For example, “Favor and disgrace both seem startling.”
Lao Tze said both are very startling, very scaring! Why are we to be favored? Maybe he is going to take advantage of us or something? Why are we to be insulted? Maybe some troubles or disasters are coming soon? From this point of view, both seem to be startling. To understand Lao Tze’s wisdom is the first step, the real goal of reading a book especially Tao Te Ching is to develop our wisdom and let’s see the two versions in translation of Chapter One.
Tao Te Ching
This is the first chapter of Tao Te Ching translated by a spiritual master of Tao:
“The Tao that can be described is not the constant Tao. The name that can be named is not the Constant Name. The nameless is the creator of Heaven and Earth. The named is the mother of million things. Therefore, always be of no desire and one will see the mystery. Always be filled with desire and one will see what one is pursuing. These two come out from the same source but with different names. They are both mysterious. It is the mystery of mysteries. It is the gate of all mysteries.”
Another version of translation of the First Chapter is:
“Tao that can be spoken of is not the Constant Tao. The name that can be named is not a Constant Name. Nameless, is the origin of Heaven and Earth; the named is the Mother of all things. Thus, the constant void enables one to observe the true essence. The constant being enables one to see the outward manifestations. These two come paired from the same origin. But when the essence is manifested, it has a different name. This same origin is called ‘The Profound Mystery.’ As profound the mystery as it can be, it is the Gate to the essence of all life.”
The original writing in Chinese cannot be accurately translated and different translators have different understanding of Tao Te Ching. Let us just take a closer look at the first sentence of the first chapter, “Tao that can be spoken of is not the Constant Tao.” It is worthy of our strong attention because both translators described the same meaning.
Lao Tze tried to say:
“Tao is not in talking, whatever can be described is not the real Tao. This is the same as we said that the dishes in cookbook are not real dishes and are not edible, only pictures and descriptions. We have to cook according to the recipe described so that we can eat the real food. The important point is cooking instead of just having the recipe. Therefore, the main point of Lao Tze is to act according to Tao instead of talking about it. Without any action, it is not the constant Tao.”
Tao is therefore in the action and not merely talking. My Heavenly Teacher JiGong emphasized the action of Tao as follows:
“Spread Tao and cultivate Tao with your heart and soul. Fear not difficulties and hardships. Play the role of your life well and struggle through life and death with your best effort. Grip your teeth and jaws and step through. How many winters and summers in life can we be busy spreading Tao? Although there would be temporal loneliness and solitude, those who can bear and endure will never fall into an unending sorrow of ten-thousand ages. Disciples, do bear the temporal loneliness now and win the joy and freedom of the ten-thousand years to come!”
Author: T.A Chew
T.A Chew is a practitioner of Tao since 1995. The saying of “practise what we preach” is very important for us to be a good living example. Tao Te Ching is full of wisdom and love to guide us in life. Whatever the translation, it is hoped that readers of any versions can learn to be a better person by practising them sincerely. Website: http://www.white-sun.com
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