(First Pass: “Chapter of the Week” 2011)
This is chapter 81, the last chapter of the Tao Te Ching. My journey on this Taoist path began almost 50 years ago in Vietnam, as did my learning to read and write Chinese. Over the years, I have translated parts of chapters that puzzled me. This revealed a subtle problem I found in all translations: The process of translating the Chinese phrasing into another language looses some of the straightforward meaning.
About ten years ago, I decided to do what I could to remedy this problem (1). To recover some of that straightforward meaning, the average (or better) student may find my translation helpful when used along side their favorite, more readable translation. If that fails, the student can always ponder the included verbatim literal Chinese to English translation.
I do feel (with humble, hesitant confidence) that this may be one of the more faithful translations ever written. Reliability, even at the expense of readability, has been my goal—a fool’s errand for anyone wishing to market their work. I suppose I had no choice really, for as this chapter says, True speech isn’t beautiful, Beautiful speech isn’t true. Therefore, maybe my translation is also one of the least readable ever written. If all true, that is balanced… what more could I want. Now, it is time to pop the champagne! Even so, I will continue assessing my choice of words and phrasing to improve these as possible.
Speaking of bucket lists, having children was the last item on my bucket list several decades ago. Living longer, the list got appended (translating the Tao Te Ching, for example). The decks look clear now, so Grimm Reaper, I’m ready whenever you are. No hurry though—take your time. I just thought of something else to do…
(1) A number of translations are actually interpretations of other original translations. Of original and authoritative translations, D.C. Lau’s is one of the best. Therefore, I will use a line from his chapter 73 to illustrate the problem, and my attempt to reduce it.
His translation says, Heaven hates what it hates, Who knows the reason why? Now, this isn’t that off base as it stands, until you consider it along side an issue I raise in my commentary of chapter 81 (i.e., So now, ask yourself: is there good or bad in nature? Does nature play favorites; does nature love some things more than other things?… )
I translate the phrase this way, Nature’s ruthlessness, who knows its cause. With any luck, this is more in line with the impartiality and over all balance expressed in the Tao Te Ching.
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