Introduction

In Reading Tao Te Ching, Chapter 33, I referenced Derek Lin’s A Note on the Translation from his book and, also, his Approach and Guiding Principals which can be found on the internet. With Wayne Dyer, I cross-referenced his translation with the original translators listed in his Acknowledgements section. For the first time, I include Stephen Hodge’s translation and commentary of the selected reading. My comparison section includes the rather sticky first two lines which seem to interchange the English language words intelligent, knowledge, clever, enlightened, wisdom and insight. Also, I look at Derek Lin’s translation versus that of ancient Taoist scholar Wang Bi’s Commentary, which though not overtly mentioned (by Lin), was surely referenced as a basis for ancient Chinese grounding of the text.  

Derek Lin’s translation of 33 is structured in four sections[PS1] [i].  Section 1 consists of lines 1 through 4 and distinguishes intellect from enlightenment; and strength from power. Section 2 consists of lines 5 and 6. Line 5 equates contentment with wealth. Line 6 identifies vigor as an attribute of willpower. Section 3 is merely line 7 which tells us that in keeping our faith in the Tao, we may live long. Section 4, line 8, tells us that through leaving a legacy, we can live on after physical death in our works preserve and in memories deserved.

Lin’s book translation invokes the Greek maxim Know Thyself. He illustrates this, in part, by reminding us that you are your own worst enemy. Though unstated, practice makes perfect might best describe his summation of physical cultivation. A strong spiritual foundation sustains us in the tests of our will over time. Derek closes by telling us that we can live on in the hearts and minds of others by bringing meaning and joy to all others while we live. Helping them. Cherishing them. Sounding very Confucian.

Derek Lin’s internet commentary of TTC 33, to some extent, gives an opinionated interpretation of each line with a summary accompanying each section. The explanations resemble the types of opinionated translations which he rejects from other translators. This observation (of mine) kind of justifies the extended language used by western translators to balance (their) precision to the (laconic) concision of the original ancient Chinese text.

Wayne Dyer never disappoints. Each of his translations is a strict plagiarizing of the hard work of another scholar. Pick an “Acknowledged” author. Grab a few lines. Omit other lines. Voila! Translation a la Wayne Walter Dyer – Self Help Guru. With no attempt to alter even a particle of translation, it is no wonder our poor departed humorous self-help guru gets sued posthumously. I have to admit, I stumbled on Wayne’s verse-clipping fetish by accident when the incongruity of one of his pasted together confections stunned me then sent me into a laborious investigation. Nevertheless, Mr. Dyer’s works in general have helped vastly more souls than his plagiarism has hurt. Who among us can say as much as to our petty transgressions?

Wayne’s Verse 33 commentary inspired almost no curiosity or criticism in me. The mention of A Course in Miracles caught my eye. In short, his 1000+ word gloss, at length, sat uncharacteristically understated, error free and sorely minimally without quotations.

My inclusion of Stephen Hodge originated with his mention in Dyer’s Acknowledgements.  I acquired Hodge’s book used for $1.80. I didn’t know that it would turn out to be a deep dive into the Mawangdui slips and Guodian strips. With a terrific historical introduction of the subject and a rather awkward presentation of the Tao Te Ching, I fell in love, for a moment, you might say.


[i] THE STRUCTURE OF LAOZI 33

Laozi 33 has the formal signals associated with IPS[i]. The two pairs in texts 1 and 2 are parallel with a minor difference, you li 有(yǒu) 力(lì) being two characters but 智(zhì)  only one.

Texts 3 and 4 again are parallel with a similar minor difference. Texts 5 and 6 have the same number of characters and closely related terms at their ends, jiu 久(jiǔ) and shou 壽(shòu), but their grammar greatly differs, particularly in Wang Bi’s reading. The only clear indicator linking the first two texts with the second pair is the term powerful, 强(qiáng) in text 4, which links up with the same term in text 2.

However, neither text nor commentary give a clear indication linking text 1 with text 3. The term qiang is not commented upon in the commentary to text 2 and is defined through the quotation from Laozi 41 in the commentary to text 4 as meaning qin neng 勤(qín) 能(néng), “to the utmost of one’s capacities,” and provided with a supplement, “to practice the Way. There are two possible strategies here, either to read the definition in text 4 as fundamentally different from that suggested in text 2 and abandon the attempts at discovering more than a serial structure, or to transfer the content of qiang from text 4 to text 2.

I opt for the second strategy because of text 5. The commentary to this text directly takes up the terminology of texts 1 and 2 in a parallel manner, indicating that it is a general statement referring to previous chains begun by them. Text 6 also comes in as a general statement. Text 5 refers to the stability of position that a Sage Ruler enjoys, and text 6 to his personal survival.


 [PS1]Lines 1 & 2 are paired (P1) with minor differences, as lines 3 & 4, are also paired. Pair 1 (P1) links to Pair 2 (P1) via the word strong.

Lines 5 &6 are paired (P3) with the same number of characters and closely related terms (Long & ) at the ends, but differing grammar.

Phrases belonging to one chain (e.g., a) explicitly refer to each other by using the same vocabulary. In the closed form, no such explicit reference exists; the link is by implication. Given the possibility of the variant ab ba, this often leads to problems of attribution of individual phrases to one of the two chains.

Afterword

Why do I find it so important to investigate and analyze this and other chapters of the Tao Te Ching?

First, the Tao Te Ching guided me through the rough seas of life for decades past and I pay homage to the wisdom that cloaked me then. To stop and wait. To imagine an improved version of myself. To attempt to speak wisdom to another for whom I care. TTC is not just a book, it can be a sort of bible. It is not just poetry to soothe but just profound enough to make one stop and think. Thinking in times of peril may be good enough.

The excruciating detail (sometimes 😉 involved in each chapter analysis, for me, alludes back to the Bible. The Christian works, old and especially new, underwent revision and selection and insertion of ideas and assertions which Jesus surely never intended.  By examining the evidence (commentaries), literature (other Taoist books, e.g. I Ching, Chuang Tzu, etc.) and history (both Chinese and Shamanism), inaccuracies and even a type of “heresy” might be discovered and avoided.

An example of minor “heresy” might be Derek Lin’s conflicting goals of providing a true translation and resolving the gender issue. Laozi wrote Tao Te Ching, according to Wang Bi and others, for THE RULER. The ruler was always a man. Gender neutral pronouns are not true translations. Additionally, Derek Lin only partially resolved the issue of the translator inserting their parochial understanding directly into the piece. For, by writing a virtual line by line commentary alongside his translation, Derek has de facto committed the same “sin”.

The inclusion of the comparison of Derek Lin’s translation with that of Wang Bi via Rudolf Wagner evidences another emerging pursuit. Wagner’s A Chinese Reading of the Daodejing is only one of three tomes written on the subject. Each of his works include Chinese characters and over-my-head explanations of subject matter. I have to admit that one the things I have learned, so far, is how to copy and paste multiple languages from images of pages photographed in Mr. Wagner’s fine publication.

In summary, this granulating of the rock that is Tao Te Ching may result in a sandcastle that dissolves at high tide, much as our Tuesday together scatters us at eventide. But I hope to make my documents more substantive and still practical in future renditions. My process of comparing and resolving certain specifics in the TTC text yields satisfying knowledge within TTC (for me anyway) and an array of investigative and compositional skills without (for other and future research). A warning: my intensity on the subject will likely wax further before it wanes at all.