OldDog

On Context for Understanding DDJ

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I have been a student of the Daodejing for many years. My study has largely consisted of reading various translations and interpretations of DDJ and reflecting on its meanings. I think this is the way many of us have started with Daoism. As I read the various translations and interpretations of DDJ, I began to see the influences that the writers had on rendering the work; their point of view, as it were. As must be the case, these points of view are decidedly western, and quite often Christian. Even the more scholarly efforts, in spite of best intentions, often contain traces of western and Christian thinking. Being aware of this, you can recognize it and make what ever accommodations you feel inclined. Still, I began to suspect that some publications were actually more interpretations than translations, particularly the less scholarly ones. Researching the background of the writers, particularly their ability with written and spoken Chinese, and reviewing the bibliographies of their works, helps in sensing how much more a work is of interpretation than translation and the amount of value you can place on the work.

 

This has led me to question how informed the translations are ... or rather, how the translations were informed? What, beyond ability with the Chinese language is necessary to translate a work like the DDJ. Knowledge of Chinese culture, as a matter of general understanding, certainly contributes to translation, as does understanding of Chinese history.

 

Even so, as I read the various DDJs, I still struggled with the seemingly enigmatic language and symbolism of the translated text, despite having tried to select works of knowledgeable translators. Many translators don't provide much explanation. Simply relying on the truthful feel of the DDJ, however strong, was not developing my understanding. I just felt the need for a more appropriate and specific context in which to make sense of the DDJ. Something that might make the DDJ more actionable in terms of practice of the ideas put forward. To that end, I began to look at translations of other source texts. Certainly, there is no shortage of references to such texts, particularly in the more scholarly translations. I settled on two such works that have opened up for me a whole different level of understanding of the DDJ; The Seal of the Unity of the Three by Fabrizio Pregadio and The Thread of Dao by Dan G Reid. 

 

It is with this backdrop that I start this thread. I am not a scholar or academic but simply one on the journey, seeking to share my impressions. My hope is that others, familiar with these works or not, will share their ideas as well. 

 

So, initially, what do the Bums think of these two works in general and how have you used them?

 

btw, this is my first attempt to initiate a thread. If I am violating and rules, customs or conventions, please let me know. ; )

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First, I see no violation of any rule or convention.  In my opinion, you are good.

 

I have not read either of the sources you mentioned so any comment I make will be rather generalized.

 

I wish you success with this thread.

 

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On 4/15/2018 at 12:26 PM, OldDog said:

 

 

This has led me to question how informed the translations are ... or rather, how the translations were informed? What, beyond ability with the Chinese language is necessary to translate a work like the DDJ. Knowledge of Chinese culture, as a matter of general understanding, certainly contributes to translation, as does understanding of Chinese history.

 

Even so, as I read the various DDJs, I still struggled with the seemingly enigmatic language and symbolism of the translated text, despite having tried to select works of knowledgeable translators. Many translators don't provide much explanation. Simply relying on the truthful feel of the DDJ, however strong, was not developing my understanding. I just felt the need for a more appropriate and specific context in which to make sense of the DDJ. Something that might make the DDJ more actionable in terms of practice of the ideas put forward.

 

It is with this backdrop that I start this thread. I am not a scholar or academic but simply one on the journey, seeking to share my impressions. My hope is that others, familiar with these works or not, will share their ideas as well. 

 

What is needed is grace in the language that one translates into , like English. More than just the 'fluency' of making substitutions of some words to other rough standard equivalent by rote.  

Besides that , one needs to actually understand the philosophy, the rationale etc. 

 

If one wants to study previous culture, then one should do that , but if the desire is to present the ideas of the Classics in modern context, so as to be actionable, the history is basically trivial , and most of the time there are scholars of equal renown who discount claims made by others. Most don't seem to want to emphasize uncertainty about dates and so forth.  

 

To create a rational work , one that relies on real world principles , one cannot keep falling back on historical gods , immortals and fantastical connections as explanatory.

Many translators seem to do this , making the excuse that appears to be in the original Chinese text which is a figurative writing. 

They are caught somewhere between , telling folktales , recounting historical accounts, and crudely spinning a yarn they don't believe, into English. 

 

As a reader you are faced with trying to understand the minds of the guys who did the original writing despite the fact they were coming from an entirely different standpoint in understanding.  BUT since they were humans on earth in a society one should have some common ground and just plain admit , that you never met any gods, or know what happens when one dies- from personal experience  , and neither did they. 

 

Edited by Stosh
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I certainly concur with the notion of that for a good translation more than just being able to substitute one word for another is needed. Interesting that you should choose a word like 'grace' to describe the ability of a good translator. Grace is not a word I use frequently ... but it does convey a meaning well. And undoubtedly, knowldge of the subject matter or philosophy is important.

 

I vasilate when it comes to emphasizing fluency in the source language vs the language being translated to. I believe that language and thought process are intricately entwined and that they affect each other in subtle but dramatic ways. Chinese is so different in structure from say English that it is hard to say which side of the language tranlation barrier is more important. Certainly, at least some fluency with both is required. I do wonder though, that a native speaker of Chinese thinks significantly different than a native speaker of English ... or German ... or Spanish. 

 

What about a sense of poetry or prose? Is that a component of 'grace'?

 

 

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19 minutes ago, OldDog said:

I certainly concur with the notion of that for a good translation more than just being able to substitute one word for another is needed. Interesting that you should choose a word like 'grace' to describe the ability of a good translator. Grace is not a word I use frequently ... but it does convey a meaning well. And undoubtedly, knowldge of the subject matter or philosophy is important.

 

I vasilate when it comes to emphasizing fluency in the source language vs the language being translated to. I believe that language and thought process are intricately entwined and that they affect each other in subtle but dramatic ways. Chinese is so different in structure from say English that it is hard to say which side of the language tranlation barrier is more important. Certainly, at least some fluency with both is required. I do wonder though, that a native speaker of Chinese thinks significantly different than a native speaker of English ... or German ... or Spanish. 

 

What about a sense of poetry or prose? Is that a component of 'grace'?

 

 

Well what I am meaning by grace is not just prettiness, but that it has a logical fluidity , the chosen words are apt for describing the relationships in an understandable manner, set a tone. They should lead one to a reasonable perspective which the author believes is genuine. IMO the recipient end of the translation is far more important that than the broad guesswork of the source end, given that the translator himself gets the point. 

Comparatively , in the west we can look back at 2200 yr old Greek and Roman texts , and they can still be read accurately, they can be crosschecked against other languages. Some of the philosophical questions were encountered and reflected upon , both in east and west, and This gives a view of what the eastern texts were talking about on a philosophical level , so while  eastern classical speech is poorly certain, there is still a window for understanding of some issues. 

 Not every nuance of daoist canon is important to relate,  since much of it is redundant, but one should leave the original text recognized as original , so that those nuances can be enjoyed by those who can read them.

In the history of My people , there were also stories and fairy-tales , and they are recognized as fabrications , and they are enjoyed from a perspective of 'suspended disbelief'  , though we are aware that they have, or had ,messages of significance underlying the story. Likewise , the right thing is to leave these tales as told , but understand the message. 

Mostly we just dumped them though, and began afresh with the 'age of reason'. 

 

But more directly , no it doesn't have to be a poem , nor written as slick prose . Those are not actionable perspectives , they wont change your attitudes , or the way you relate to the world.

In all likely-hood, even long explanations and reflections ,aren't going to do that. 

 

 

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On 4/15/2018 at 8:26 PM, OldDog said:

I settled on two such works that have opened up for me a whole different level of understanding of the DDJ; The Seal of the Unity of the Three by Fabrizio Pregadio and The Thread of Dao by Dan G Reid. 

 

It is with this backdrop that I start this thread. I am not a scholar or academic but simply one on the journey, seeking to share my impressions. My hope is that others, familiar with these works or not, will share their ideas as well. 

 

Pregadio is a brilliant scholar. The text above has little direct bearing to DDJ, however. DG Reid is probably well intended but he bases his translation on a later date commentary to DDJ

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heshang_Gong

a product of a different era, with a 400 years of a disconnect to the original.

 

The problem with all the DDJ translations is that the translators are not familiar with the technical terms, thus missing the mark wildly. Add to that the obliviousness to the purpose of the text, and its largely a "garbage in-garbage out" situation.

Edited by Taoist Texts
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3 hours ago, Taoist Texts said:

DG Reid is probably well intended but he bases his translation on a later date commentary to DDJ

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heshang_Gong

a product of a different era, with a 400 years of a disconnect to the original.

 

That may not be completely fair as I thought his intention was to simply translate the HSG notes in light of the DDJ... Rudolf Wagner and Richard John Lynn did the same thing with the Wang Bi commentary... which is even later than the HSG  :)

 

So, should we go back early commentaries like the Xiang'er  (religious celestial masters) or even the very first, which was a legalist, Hanfeizi ?  :)

 

If we listen to modern day translations, how far removed are we now ;)

 

There are a few ways in which Laozi has been understand and continues to be understood that can span:

- Geo-political-ruler

- Legalist

- Religious/Spiritual/Shaman

- Cultivation

- Philosophical

- Societal

 

Some of the above overlap and some breakdown further...  What I would say is to choose which one is the initial gut feeling for how you view it and find folks that have explained it in that vein.... but then I'd move on to another one to expand one's own understanding. 

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If it fairly covers all these ways , then it is a broader concept which means none of the the above list of six manifestations are being on point and Hanfeizi had a skewed opinion.

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Fabrizio Pregadio chose a rather lengthy title for his work,  The Seal of the Unity of the Three. Going forward I will refer to it by its traditional name, Cantong qi. 

 

I don't recall who originally recommended this book but I am grateful. My goal at the time was primarily to develop a better understanding of the Yijing. Like the Daodejing, the Yijing is shrouded in the similar enigmatic language. I have little interest in the Yijing as a divinatory text. I think divination is a bit of a misty-twisty passage, to borrow an early gaming phrase; once you go that way, it almost becomes an end in and of itself and a distraction from a broader study of Dao. I needed a way of cracking the enigmatic language and symbolism, though. I had always understood there exists a Daoist alchemy tradition and in discussions of the DDJ and Yijing you find not infrequent comment that particular words or phrases are actually references to alchemical processes. Like divination, I felt like alchemy might be yet another misty-twisty passage. But if that tradition had keys to understanding the enigmatic language, it might well be worth a look. 

 

So, approaching cautiously, I downloaded a sample Pregadio's work. It included a passage that cinched it for me.

 

"... while I was consulting several traditional commentaries in order to translate the text, I had begun to notice that, in addition to the mainstream Neidan interpretation, there has also been a different, less well-known way of reading the Cantong qi within the Taoist tradition. In this view, alchemy is one of three major subjects dealt with in the text, and referred to in its title; the other two are a cosmology that explicates how the world is related to the Dao, and a description of the highest state of realization, which is defined as the Taoist non-doing, or Wu Wei." (pp xi)

 

Well, this was great! Not only was Pregadio's book going to provide help with enigmatic language, it was going to relate not just to alchemy but to cosmology and Daoism in general. So, I bought the book and dove in.

 

The book, in and of itself, is quite a scholarly presentation. While the translated Cantongqi itself is less than 60 pages, it is preceded in Pregadio's work by a 63 page introduction, where he lays out his approach and addresses many of the usual questions of provenance ( naming, authorship, dating ) as well as establishing the main ideas that he intends to draw out. The remainder of the 300 page work is taken up by extensive notes and other supporting material.

 

Now, I am not intentionally shilling for the book. I genuinely am impressed with the book as a scholarly work. But many are not familiar with this work and I want give some idea of its relevance and credibility.

 

The main thing is that the book is not just a esoteric alchemy treatise but can have a broader appeal in a generalized study of Daoism and cosmology and can inform the study of both the Yijing and Daodejing.

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17 hours ago, dawei said:

So, should we go back early commentaries like the Xiang'er  (religious celestial masters) or even the very first, which was a legalist, Hanfeizi ?

Xiang'er is an amusing product of a cross-class cultural appropriation, with a huge time gap (The Xiang’er was likely written between 190 and 220 CE), so i would say - no. Hanfeizi is closer to home, almost. But DDJ's real origin lies among the early Confucian and legalist sources.

Edited by Taoist Texts
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29 minutes ago, Taoist Texts said:

Xiang'er is an amusing product of a cross-class cultural appropriation, with a huge time gap (The Xiang’er was likely written between 190 and 220 CE), so i would say - no. Hanfeizi is closer to home, almost. But DDJ's real origin lies among the early Confucian and legalist sources.

Which would not necessarily mean that it is typically Legalist or Confucian in its content , even if that was true. 

( Jesus could be properly labeled as a Jew , but being a reformer , that is .., a fungible statement) 

And so one should not necessarily conclude that the sentiments expressed should be construed as being identical to Confucian or Legalist opinions , that others may have had. That would be like saying all americans have the same sentiments on gun control being that they can be construed as having common origin. 

One would still need to look at the texts to discern. 

 

Edited by Stosh
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29 minutes ago, Stosh said:

One would still need to look at the texts to discern. 

of course

 

Apart from the influence of Confucianist Xun Zi, who was his and Li Si's teacher, Han Fei wrote a commentary on the Tao Te Ching, which he interpreted as a political text. For this reason, the Han Feizi is sometimes included as part of the syncretist Huang-Lao (Taoist) tradition, seeing the Tao as a natural law that everyone and everything was forced to follow. Parallel to this, he believed that an ideal ruler made laws, like an inevitable force of nature, that the people could not resist.

Translator W. K. Liao describes the world view of Han Fei TzŇ≠ as "purely Taoistic", advocating a "doctrine of inaction" nonetheless followed by an "insistence on the active application of the two handles to government", this being the "difference between Han Fei TzŇ≠'s ideas and the teachings of the orthodox Taoists (who advocated non-action from start to finish -ed)."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Han_Feizi#Comparisons

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We may be getting off topic with a focus on Hanfeizi, but I termed him a 'legalist' because most do... but his sentiment included quite daoist ideas... and ranged more than just political-ruler on some level.   As the first and earlier commentary, I've enjoyed reading it.

 

Can see:

Legalism vs Daoism

 

The Six Schools of Chinese Philosophy

 

 

 

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This is looking like a logic circle, If Lao is dao jia , then he is not legalist as defined by the six schools. 

So , If lao is not legalist then anything the legalists have to say is a rewrite , including Hanfei,

Or , if what he, Lao,  had to say,  was sourced in the legalist traditions,and one considers it significantly different ..again  

 Hanfei is not the guy to go to, to understand Lao. 

 

The other thing is that the six schools thing groups lao as Dao jia, and Chuang too , but Chuang is considered a mystic by some , and therefore should be grouped with the yin yang school or something , being dao jiao. 

 

It seems,, The problem is that people on the outside are clustering the thoughts of other people,  who actually had the sentiments, as if they are all equivalent , and can comment back and forth on each other with validity. That they think they understand all the philosophies and define Taoism for all of them. But if The texts are obscure , there is no basis to do that. People have been arguing about Lao for 2200 years ! How can someone walk up and proclaim that he should be understood in the Legalist context of Han fei? 

Or how can someone compare the two if at least one is .. still highly speculative ?

 

 

Edited by Stosh

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I think putting labels and boxes around [schools of] thought is obviously an age old problem... but in context, Sima Qian (and his father) were putting together a historical framework of the past.   Also realize that the Jixia academy in Qi was home to the great philosophical debates and thus likely folks know the opposing positions to argue for or against.

 

And as TT showed, HFZ was sometimes lumped into Huang-Lao, taoist tradition.  The fact is, they all believed in Dao, even the later buddhist, but applied it in the way that fit their own framework.

 

One of the beauties of the LZ text is that Dao is all-pervasive and as ZZ said, found even in shit...  thus, there is a world of application of the words.   It may be true and debatable whether certain chapters are to rulers or individuals... but both can apply the meaning which is to say both understood it in such a way that they reveal Dao is everywhere.

 

 

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