Lao Tzu
Tao Te Ching
"I attempted to tear my way through the thickets of hieroglyphs and
ideograms only to come up against the dead end of each character's
maddening multiplicity of meanings.  I had just read somewhere that there
exist more than eighty English translations of the
Tao Te Ching (the bible of
Taoism), all of them competent and reliable -- and all utterly different!  My
legs buckled beneath me.  No, I thought to myself, I cannot cope with this, I
cannot manage."
                                                 
 Ryszard Kapuscinski


Ah, but the ambiguity is part of the message of the Tao.  Here the
master instructs us:  "If Tao lets itself be defined as Tao, then it is
not genuine Tao."   Just as Socratic thinking, a hundred years later,
celebrated the precision with which language could dissect and
categorize reality, the
Tao Te Ching warned against the dangers of
such rigid categorizations.   In the Tao, things often turn into their
opposites.   Here we find a divergence between Eastern and
Western thinking that still resonates today

The Tao (pronounced "Dow") can be best translated in English as
the "path" or "way."   Although Lau Tzu (604-531 BC), a
contemporary of Confucius, is usually credited as the founder,
many believe that the work represents a compilation of folk
wisdom drawn from various sources.   The number of contemporary
practitioners of Taoism is small -- perhaps a few tens of millions --
but the influence of
Tao Te Ching on contemporary spirituality is
much greater than such figures might indicate.   Taoism's embrace
with paradox and its evocation of the interdependence of
opposites -- the latter realized in the well known symbol of the yin
and yang -- are easily blended with many post-modern notions.   
Moreover Taoism's lack of an official creed and organizational
structure make it especially appealing in an age in which spirituality
is displacing (or supplementing?) religion.   The
Tao Te Ching is a
rich, poetic work, often philosophic, more often suggestive than
declamatory, and like the greatest texts, it can be returned to,
again and again, revealing nuances and subtleties with each
re-reading.  
TIPS FOR READERS

Stephen Mitchell's
translation captures
the poetry of the
text and is eminently
quotable, but more
serious students will
prefer the
Penguin
edition, with its more
substantial scholarly
background
information.