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As a canon, the "Dao-De Jing" is a symbolic work and its symbols transcend its context. When this is properly understood, all 81 sections of it divided into nine divisions and two halves have universal application. Any attempt to translate them with no account taken of the numerological and symbolical systems means to remove them entirely from canonical context and narrow the field of application.
Since the end of the nineteenth and throughout the twentieth century interest in the Chinese "Lao-zi," better known as the “Dao-De Jing,” has risen to unprecedented levels in Europe and America. It has gained an immense popular reputation as a piece of one of the most ancient world philosophies, a reputation no doubt enhanced by the interest shown in it by the Russian writer Lev Tolstoy (1828-1910) and Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875-1961) who has advocated that this is one of the titles on a short list of Chinese books every civilised person should read. As a result, translations, popularisations and works of study have flooded onto the market in recent hundred years. The various editions of it are innumerable; it has appeared from time to time in almost every conceivable size, shape and style of execution. Many commentaries have been written upon it, and it is regularly published with a collection of several hundred anecdotes along with pictorial illustrations to explain every stanza seriatim. It may, therefore, seem superfluous to add yet another title to an already extensive literature. This work object is not to restore the original "Lao-zi," but on the basis of the logical rules and numerological analysis disclose its canonical structure. In the intrinsic line with current philosophical perspective and the theory of cognition, this is an attempt to comprehend Lao-zi’s epistemological model revealed through two correlative aspects specified as the heavenly 'Dao' and earthly 'De.'
The initial phrase of the “Book of Dao,” which says, “Dao that can be followed is not the absolute Dao” (Verse 1) signals that the term ‘Dao’ may denote numerological item-systems of guiding the absolute and non-absolute, positive and negative, tangible and intangible, Dao and non-Dao, also known as De. The contrast of the positive and negative, material and immaterial, heavenly and earthly pervades the original “Lao-zi.” My conception of the terms ‘Dao’ and ‘De’ is quite different from that of most researchers. But this is not the place to justify myself. It may best be judged from the following pages whether my viewpoint is acceptable or incorrect. In any case, I must be satisfied with offering the overall result of my labours. My dream has been to reproduce the canon of five thousand and odd characters in a readable form, which would be as precise as the difference of languages permits to be intelligible to English-speaking readers. Lao-zi’s work is far too broad in implication to be fully captured by such a specific language as English. English words cannot be made as fat with meaning as Chinese characters in their ancient ideographic script, unless they spread out in another course or dimension. Therefore, the reader’s proficiency in reading Lao-zi’s scripture ‘back-to-front’ will allow him or her to take it as a hologram, a three-dimensional model and a whole piece, the method which is widely employed in traditional arts, including the Tai-ji Quan practice. The present translation addresses this problem by offering a multidimensional matrix, from which a virtually unlimited number of translations can be derived. This offers an average of perhaps half a dozen different English options for each Chinese word and often demonstrates choices between different figurative patterns and logical constructions. This may be so unusual and so contradictory to most readers that it is the best thought of as a demonstration of the thought processes by which translation of each line has been derived. It can still be used to answer some questions about the turn of certain phrases and often deliberate polysemy and ambiguities in the original. There are several reasons for such confusion. The most obvious is that there exists a large demand for this book, while most of the readers within this market know next to nothing about the Old Chinese (gu-wen) and ways of thinking of the ancients. They seem to trust that publishing house editors, or the reviewers quoted on the covers, are more knowledgeable. This is not the case. But there is still a deeper source of confusion. The original work is not that much better understood in Chinese than in English. Tons of volumes of interpretation exist in the Chinese language, dating as far back as Wang Bi and He-shang Gong in the second century CE. Interpretations tend to follow schools of philosophical thought and cumulative error that this often entails. Often the systems of thought, which were in some way derived from the canon, were used retroactively to clarify the meaning of the original. The original language is terse, ambiguous in places and full of word play; it has no set parts of speech, no tense, gender, voice, mood, plurals and so on. In many ways, it resembles the subject of divination on the tortoise shells and yarrow stalks more than it does correlative language. Most words carry a large number of possible translations in many parts of speech and intended meanings and do not become clearer until studied in their more oriented contexts, when specific patterns and analytical models come in the picture. Therefore, the structural analysis and deductive approach need to be done to read the text in its originally epistemological significance to disclose the centuries-old ‘mystery’ of Lao-zi.
The Dao-De Jing is the most famous and unfathomable work of Chinese philosophical inheritance. It is unique among the other classical guidebooks in providing a practical method, by which one can effect this experiential learning of the absolute Dao. As a canon, it is a symbolic work and its symbols transcend its context. When this is properly understood, all 81 sections of it divided into nine divisions and two halves have universal application. Any attempt to translate them with no account taken of the numerological and symbolical systems means to remove them entirely from systematic canonical context and narrow the field of application, causing damage to philosophical concepts it contains. At worst, it can result in a distortion of the meaning, which is quite inappropriate to the original. This work object is not to restore the original Lao-zi, but on the basis of the logical rules and numerological analysis disclose its inner structure.