Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Process Note: Interpreting the Tao Te Ching

Reading sacred texts often leaves one puzzled. This puzzlement arises two ways--either the reader is not sufficiently spiritually evolved just yet to understand the writing, or the translator has not quite understood the text and translated it erroneously.

Every morning, prior to meditating, my husband and I sit together and read aloud from a variety of sacred manuscripts. These manuscripts always include three different versions of the Tao Te Ching. It is interesting to see how the different translators interpret Lao Tsu so differently.

Oftentimes, some lines in a verse will not make sense to me as translated. Looking to a different translation often clears up the confusion. Now that I have my hands on "The Definitive Edition" of the Tao Te Ching translated by Jonathan Star, I can look up the original pictograms and the multiplicity of possible meanings, and then write out for myself a translation that makes sense to me. I have been progressing thusly through the Tao Te Ching for several years now.

Since coming up with the "Simple Explanation of Absolutely Everything" a year ago, the Tao Te Ching has become much less mysterious to me. This explanatory power proves to me the spiritual utility of the Simple Explanation's cosmological model.
 Here's how I go about translating the Tao Te Ching:  

For every verse in the Tao Te Ching, Star's Verbatim Translation provides the Chinese character, the number of the character's radical, an English transliteration of the character using the Wade-Giles system, and most importantly for my purposes, a list of English equivalents for each character.

So, for example, the first character of Verse 21, k'ung, is translated as "Vast/all-embracing/high[est]/ great/grand/empty/ >surname of Confucius: K'ung Fu Tzu". The second character of Verse 21 is te, "Te/virtue/power }}highest virtue/a man of great virtue/"the natural expression of Power"(Wing)"

Reading the entire stanza of 8 characters for context helped me to choose "Highest virtue" as the Simple Explanation's translation. I used this process for all 71 characters of Verse 21 to come up with the Simple Explanation of the Tao Te Ching, Verse 21.

Here's a picture of two pages of Verse 27 from the verbatim section:

if you click on the image, you can make it bigger