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Book Review: Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu. Translated by Gi-fu Feng and Jane English with Toinette Lippe

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The Tao Te Ching, as translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, opened the door of Taoist thought and wisdom to the Western world 40 years ago. Now, Vintage Books, a division of Random House Inc. presents a refreshed translation by English and her long-time editor, Toinette Lippe, along with more than 100 black and white photographs to further elucidate the rejuvenated text.

Jacob Needleman, a lauded writer and scholar of philosophy and comparative religion, opens this promising revision by underscoring the context and meaningful application of Taoism in the modern day, 2,500 years after Lao Tsu’s poems and philosophy were written.

Lao Tsu may be an influential, legendary figure in ancient Chinese culture, but his attributed work – a poem consisting of 81 separated chapters – transcends any state or continent and offers a heavily loaded simplicity to all people. Where are you going? What are you trying to accomplish? What is better left alone than rushed or forced?

In soliditarity with basic tenets of Buddhism, Taoism accepts nature and the progression of life events as they are without human muddling or interference. Tao does not force anyone to bend to its will, but exists outside of human interpretation of it. Readers can guess, but must remain satisfied with not having answers to every inquiry. The Tao is eternal.

Further, the Tao Te Ching explores balance, the idea that complements exist to create a whole and that life will not always be without its obstacles. People cloak themselves in regret, motives, bitterness, and struggle all too often, when a more accepting, reflective approach may yield equally desirable results. The message is relatable to anyone who adheres to a fast-paced lifestyle or simply feels lackluster, misunderstood, and alone.

Taoism connects people back into the world from which we willingly separate. The poems delve into metaphysical psychology through studying the nature of intention. For example, chapter 38 notes that good people act to benefit others without thinking or applauding their goodness. However, foolish people constantly work toward plans without accomplishing much because they are always seeking the next moment rather than situating themselves in the present. Pretty wise, yet controversial words.

Chapter 46 highlights greed as a craving never extinguished, while 55 promotes meditation or a slower lifestyle pace.The lessons continue  until the end.

Lao Tsu unravels human nature and challenges his students and readers toward self-improvement. Many may not agree with the seemingly black and white phrasing featured in the Tao Te Ching, but valuable advice can be gathered if only one pushes beyond Lao Tsu’s definitive phrasing and drops their defensiveness. Self-exploration begins the journey to contentedness and enlightenment.

This oversized soft cover makes for a wonderful work to rest on one’s coffee table, to page through over cups of tea, and to share and discuss with others. Wisely, its size prevents it from gathering dust on a bookshelf or being forgotten. The work appears solemn, but contains much beauty and most important, relevancy.

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