A famous legend tells of Lao Tzŭ, who left the royal court some time during the Chou dynasty in the 6th century BC. Stopped by the guardian of the pass who begged the scholar to leave a record of his wisdom, Lao Tzŭ recited the Tao Tê Ching, which translates as ‘The Way and Its Power’, went on his way and was never seen again.
The Tao Tê Ching is one of the foundation stones of Chinese ethics, culture and philosophy, ranking alongside the great religious works. The oldest extant text, written on slips of bamboo, dates from around 300 BC. No one knows whether one author or several lie behind the legendary figure of Lao Tzŭ, but beyond question is the lyrical intensity of the 81 short chapters of mystical poetry, which describe the limitless creative force of the Tao – or the Way – and how it may be harnessed. Itself built on Confucianism, the Tao in turn heavily influenced the development of Chinese Buddhism. At its centre lies the system of opposites and paradoxes amongst which the sage, the ruler and the enlightened must find their path of perfect balance.
This celebrated translation by Arthur Waley was first published in 1934. Waley, a scholar and sinologist, was a member of the Bloomsbury set with an ear for poetry and language which has rarely been matched. Tao Tê Ching: The Way and Its Power and Its Place in Chinese Thought includes Waley’s copious notes, glosses and extensive introductory essay, making it an accessible and authoritative version of one of the world’s most important religious and philosophical doctrines. This edition is illustrated with scroll paintings inspired by the Tao Tê Ching, and includes fold-out sections which allow the reproduction of two especially beautiful landscape scrolls.
Tao never does;
Yet through it all things
We turn clay to make
But it is on the space where
there is nothing that the
usefulness of the vessel
Banish wisdom, discard
And the people will be
benefited a hundredfold
Review by joutsen on 2nd May 2012
"In this very short review I'll discuss only the edition proper, not Waley's work (which, however, is excellent - competent and full of fine observations... I wish I could say the same about the introd..." [read more]