Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation
Roger T. Ames
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Composed more than 2,000 years ago during a turbulent period of Chinese history, the Dao de jing set forth an alternative vision of reality in a world torn apart by violence and betrayal. Daoism, as this subtle but enduring philosophy came to be known, offers a comprehensive view of experience grounded in a full understanding of the wonders hidden in the ordinary. Now in this luminous new translation, based on the recently discovered ancient bamboo scrolls, China scholars Roger T. Ames and David L. Hall bring the timeless wisdom of the Dao de jing into our contemporary world.
Though attributed to Laozi, “the Old Master,” the Dao de jing is, in fact, of unknown authorship and may well have originated in an oral tradition four hundred years before the time of Christ. Eschewing philosophical dogma, the Dao de jing set forth a series of maxims that outlined a new perspective on reality and invited readers to embark on a regimen of self-cultivation. In the Daoist world view, each particular element in our experience sends out an endless series of ripples throughout the cosmos. The unstated goal of the Dao de jing is self-transformation–the attainment of personal excellence that flows from the world and back into it. Responding to the teachings of Confucius, the Dao de jing revitalizes moral behavior by recommending a spontaneity made possible by the cultivated “habits” of the individual.
In this elegant volume, Ames and Hall feature the original Chinese texts of the Dao de jing and translate them into crisp, chiseled English that reads like poetry. Each of the eighty-one brief chapters is followed by clear, thought-provoking commentary exploring the layers of meaning in the text. The book’s extensive introduction is a model of accessible scholarship in which Ames and Hall consider the origin of the text, place the emergence of Daoist philosophy in its historical and political context, and outline its central tenets.
The Dao de jing is a work of timeless wisdom and beauty, as vital today as it was in ancient China. This new version will stand as both a compelling introduction to the complexities of Daoist thought and as the classic modern English translation.
thus enjoy joy the ride to its fullest. Cultivating a proper disposition and being prepared for the seasons through which you pass from birth to death will enable you to consistently get the most out of your circumstances. It is your resolution—the intensity found at the center—that will keep your life experience in focus, establish you as an object of deference, and enable you to enjoy both a productive life and a healthy death. Said another way, to lose focus and stray off course along the way
coercive, contentious activity diminishes the balance between focus and field. On the other hand, noncoercive relatedness encourages width, and the alternation between vagueness and triviality provides contrast. The abstractness of the Daodejing and the absence of any concrete, illustrative examples trades potential complexity and intensity that would be provided by these specific cases for an accommodating width, thus allowing it to be broad in its relevance and application. The role of the
other environments as well. The habit-informed interactions between person and environments occur within custom and culture broadly construed. This ecological sensibility is what gives Daoist philosophy its profoundly cosmic dimension. To use the word “habits” to characterize either the Confucian li or the Daoist ecological sensibility might seem, initially, somewhat disenchanting, reducing the intense and elegantly productive human experience, whether human-centered or more broadly construed,
into a dao section (chapters 1–37) and a de section (chapters 38–81) is much earlier. According to the account of his son, Liu Xin (), Liu Xiang attempted to work from all available resources, and thus began with a rather disparate collection of material, including multiple copies with many redundancies. Liu Xiang edited out of this collage a standardized text in two parts consisting of 81 chapters.3 The choice of the number 81 seems to have at least as much to do with Han dynasty numerology as
we know that doing things noncoercively (wuwei) is beneficial. Rare are those in the world who reach an understanding of the benefits of teachings that go beyond what can be said, and of doing things noncoercively. Commentary The way to optimize the creative possibilities of all the elements in any particular situation is to allow them to collaborate in doing what they do noncoercively (wuwei). These participating elements are constituted relationally, and their most productive