The Tao of Rae: Chapter 1

Speak a concept in your own words, and you know that you know it.

I’ve been reading other people’s translation of an ancient poem on how to live your own path on and off for years now, and each time I have devoted myself to it, for any amount of time, it has brought me closer to peace. I think perhaps there have been too many times where I have read it and not understood it, or not contemplated it hard enough – not taken the meaning in and actually gotten the lesson.

One of the beautiful things about The Tao de Ching is that there are so many people who have gone about trying to explain the concepts in the original poem, and through that, you can see the myriad ideas that were originally in there only if you are willing to read several different translations. Some of them are really funny. 🙂 Heck, if you’re looking for 2 good translations to go along with mine, I wholeheartedly recommend adding the daily_tao community as a friend here on LJ. They post from the Fortune files, the Beatrice Tao, and The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (The Witter Bynner version), Terebess Asia Online (TAO).

I figure that since there are more than 300 translations out there anyway, I’m not dishonoring anyone by throwing my hat in the ring.

Here are some of my favorite Chapter 1 Translations, and then my own.

Chapter 1: Translated by James Legge (1891)

The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao.
The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.

(Conceived of as) having no name, it is the Originator of heaven and earth;
(conceived of as) having a name, it is the Mother of all things.

Always without desire we must be found,
If its deep mystery we would sound;
But if desire always within us be,
Its outer fringe is all that we shall see.

Under these two aspects, it is really the same; but as development takes place, it receives the different names. Together we call them the Mystery. Where the Mystery is the deepest is the gate of all that is subtle and wonderful.

Chapter 1: Translated by G.G. Alexander (1895)

God (the great everlasting infinite First Cause from whom all things in heaven and earth proceed) can neither be defined nor named.

For the God which can be defined or named is but the Creator, the Great Mother of all those things of which our senses have cognisance.

Now he who would gain a knowledge of the nature and attributes of the nameless and undefinable God, must first set himself free from all earthly desires, for unless he can do this, he will be unable to penetrate the material veil which interposes between him and those spiritual conditions into which he would obtain an insight.

Yet the spiritual and the material, though known to us under different names, are similar in origin, and issue from the same source, and the same obscurity belongs to both, for deep indeed is the darkness which enshrouds the portals through which we have to pass, in order to gain a knowledge of these mysteries.

Chapter 1:Translated by Dwight Goddard (1919)

The Tao that can be understood cannot be the primal, or cosmic, Tao, just as an idea that can be expressed in words cannot be the infinite idea.

And yet this ineffable Tao was the source of all spirit and matter, and being expressed was the mother of all created things.

Therefore not to desire the things of sense is to know the freedom of spirituality; and to desire is to learn the limitation of matter. These two things spirit and matter, so different in nature, have the same origin. This unity of origin is the mystery of mysteries, but it is the gateway to spirituality.

Chapter 1:Translated by Rachael Majka (2011)

The truth of God’s existence is absolutely not provable to humans.
If it were provable, it wouldn’t be Godly. We’d call it science.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.
I mean, look at the world around you. Look at yourself. Boom. Proof!

Once there was absolutely nothing. Then there was something.
Nothing and something are two sides of the same coin.

You have to have a vessel to hold the nothing in.
So, when you go to God (or the Tao – same thing, really), don’t go looking for something in particular, or you’ll find nothing.

God’s way is simply to exist and to allow folks like us to overthink.

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