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Tao Te Ching Translations

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I've been reading this translation of the Tao Te Ching by Bradford Hatcher. Very interesting, he translated it as literally as possible. He also offers a matrix translation you can download off his home page which starts to show just how complex translating this work into English is.


I figured I'd open this thread up to talk about the Tao Te Ching, post chapters that grab us and link to various translations we've loved or hated, online or in print form.


Here are two chapters from Bradford's translation I like:



Attaining perfect emptiness

Remain patient & sincere

The myriad beings arise as one

Through this we observe the return

Of beings in numberless multitudes

Each coming home to its root

Return to the root means serenity

It may be called a return to a higher order

Return to higher order speaks of the enduring

To comprehend the enduring speaks of clarity

To not comprehend the enduring

Is to recklessly create suffering

To comprehend the enduring (is) tolerance

Tolerance becomes justice

Justice becomes sovereignty

Sovereignty becomes celestial

The celestial becomes the path

The path is then continuous

The death of self is nothing to fear



Superior students, hearing of the way,

Are diligent and practice it

Average students, hearing of the way,

Sometimes attend & sometimes forget

Inferior students, hearing of the way,

Laugh greatly about it

Without the laughter there would be no grounds

to regard this as the way

And so the established proverbs hold that:

Brightness, to the way, is as good as darkness

Advance, to the way, is as good as retreat

Evenness, to the way, is as good as roughness

The summit of character is as good as a valley

The greatest whiteness is as good as soiled

Abundant character seems inadequate

Established character seems furtive

The evident truth seems spurious

The greatest square has no corner

The greatest capacity is last to be realized

The greatest note is the rarest sound

The greatest image has no form

The way is hidden & nameless

(But) because way is good at acceptance

(it is) also fulfilling

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I've been reading Red Pine's translation. I like it a lot.


Here are three chapters:



The way that becomes a way

is not the Immortal way

the name that becomes a name

is not the Immortal name

the maiden of Heaven and Earth has no name

the mother of all things has a name

thus in innocence we see the beginning

in passion we see the end

two different names

for one and the same

the one we call dark

the dark beyond dark

the door to all beginnings



We look but don't see it

and call it indistinct

we listen but don't hear it

and call it faint

we reach but don't grasp it

and call it ethereal

three failed means of knowledge

we weave into one

with no light above

with no shade below

too fine to be named

returning to nothing

this is the formless form

the immaterial image

this is the waxing and waning

we meet without seeing its face

we follow without seeing its back

holding onto this very Way

we rule this very realm

and discover its ancient past

this is the thread of the Way



The Way begets them

Virtue keeps them

matter shapes them

usage completes them

thus do all things honor the Way

and glorify Virtue

the honor of the Way

the glory of Virtue

are not conferred

but always so

the Way begets and keeps them

cultivates and trains them

steadies and adjusts them

nurtures and protects them

but begets without possessing

acts without presuming

and cultivates without controlling

this is called Dark Virtue

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It is amazing the various spins that different authors take on each chapter.


Here are two versions of Chapter 16 from my two favorite translators: top is Addiss and Lombardo, bottom is Kwok, Palmer and Ramsay.





Chih hsu chi

Attain complete emptiness

Hold fast to stillness


The ten thousand things stir about;

I only watch for their going back.


Things grow and grow,

but each goes back to its root.

Going back means returning to what is.

Returning to what is

Means going back to the ordinary.


Understandng the ordinary:


Not understanding the ordinary:

Blindness creates evil.


Understanding the ordinary:

Mind opens.


Mind opening leads to compassion,

Compassion to nobility,

Nobility to heavenliness,

Heavenliness to TAO.


TAO endures.

Your body dies.


There is no danger.




The sage rules from the purest motives

Relying wholly on quiet and inner peace.


He watches the seasons rise and fall


And if he knows how things grows, he knows


They are fed by their roots


And they return to their roots;

To grow and flower and flow.


Every thing must have its roots,

and the tendrils work quietly and undergroun.

This quiet feeding is the Way of Nature.


If you understand ch'ang -- this principle of nurturing,

you can understand everything.

Not understanding it will lead you to disaster.


If a sage knows this, he can rule

And he will do so with patience and justice.


Any man can become wise in this

And he can walk the Way of Heaven


And if you walk that way

You will be royal in the mastery


Life can end in pain --

but if you live like this,


under the Tao


You wil fill your days with breath.

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The ancient masters were subtle, mysterious, profound, responsive.

The depth of their knowledge is unfathomable.

Because it is unfathomable,

All we can do is describe their appearance.

Watchful, like men crossing a winter stream.

Alert, like men aware of danger.

Courteous, like visiting guests.

Yielding like ice about to melt.

Simple, like uncarved blocks of wood.

Hollow, like caves.

Opaque, like muddy pools.


Who can wait quietly while the mud settles?

Who can remain still until the moment of action?

Observers of the Tao do not seek fulfillment.

Not seeking fulfillment, they are not swayed by desire for change.

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