Getting Right WIth The Tao – Ron Hogan


If you can talk about it,
it ain’t Tao.
If it has a name,
it’s just another thing.

Tao doesn’t have a name.
Names are for ordinary things.

Stop wanting stuff. It keeps you from seeing what’s real.
When you want stuff, all you see are things.

These two statements have the same meaning.
Figure them out, and you’ve got it made.

This is my personal favourite translation of Lao Tzu’s beautiful, mysterious and profoundly wise Tao Te Ching. Ron Hogan was working in a book shop after university when he picked up the ubiquitous Stephen Mitchell translation of the Tao Te Ching. He found it accessible, but not always transparent, and an idea was born:

I grabbed a couple other translations and started looking at the different ways they expressed the same sentiments–or, as I quickly discovered, how much poetic license Mitchell and other translators were willing to take with the original text. I don’t think this necessarily matters all that much; many current English- language versions are by people who don’t know Chinese well, if at all, and I can’t read or speak it myself. To that extent, then, we’re *all* (unless we’re fluent in Chinese, that is) at the mercy of, at best, a secondhand understanding of what Lao Tzu said.

Once I thought I had a rough idea what was behind the words, though, I went about rephrasing the chapters in my own voice. My guiding principle was to take out as much of the “poetry” as possible, to make the text sound like dialogue, so the reader could imagine someone telling him or her what Tao’s all about. You can’t take the “poetry” out completely, because the TTC is always going to have those lines about Tao being an “eternal mystery” and whatnot.

But the beauty of the book isn’t in its language, at least not for me–it’s in the practical advice Lao Tzu offers us about how to live a productive, meaningful life on a day to day basis. What I wanted to do was to make that advice as clear to a modern American reader as it would have been to the guard who first asked Lao Tzu to write it down.

I find his take on the ancient wisdom amazingly refreshing. Gone are the conundrums of the original which, while beautiful, mean the initiate to Taoist thought must overcome a real mountain before they get the gist of the core teachings of the religion.

The truth isn’t flashy.
Flashy words aren’t true.

I thanked Ron personally for his work in producing this, and he told me he was “always glad to hear that it has helped someone”. In that spirit, please spend some time reading his marvellous translation, and if you’re as much a fan of it as I am, please consider buying a copy of your own.

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