I am fascinated by the idea that something can look very different depending on where we stand. There is the old story of freaking out in the middle of the night because one sees a snake in the bedroom, but after turning on a light one realizes immediately that it was just a rope. Then there is the Tao Te Ching, that 2,500 year old book by master Lao. (((Lao Tzu or Laozi… Tzu or zi means master… hence master Lao and master Chuang/Zhuang)))
I bought my first copy of the book in my early twenties and since then I have looked at many more. It has been translated so many times and all the translations are different! Some translations have been made by people who don’t speak Chinese, represented here by Ursula Le Guin and Stephen Mitchell, others by Chinese speaking folks who are not native English speakers. It seems that the text is some kind of diamond and the shape the diamond takes on depends on the angle of the light and the position of the eye that beholds it.
Are there equivalent works of art that you have looked at, or listened to, many times and which, over time, have changed for you?
Take a look at the first chapter as translated by four different authors.
The way you can go
isn’t the real way.
The name you can say
isn’t the real name.
Heaven and earth
begin in the unnamed:
name’s the mother
of the ten thousand things.
So the unwanting soul
sees what’s hidden,
and the ever-wanting soul
sees only what it wants.
Two things, one origin,
but different in name,
whose identity is mystery.
Mystery of all mysteries!
The door to the hidden.
– Ursula Le Guin
TAO called TAO is not TAO.
Names can name no lasting name.
Nameless: the origin of heaven and earth.
Naming: the mother of ten thousand things.
Empty of desire, perceive mystery.
Filled with desire, perceive manifestations.
These have the same source, but different names.
Call them both deep—
Deep and again deep:
The gateway to all mystery.
– Stephen Addiss and Stanley Lombardo
The tao that can be told
is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be named
is not the eternal Name.
The unnamable is the eternally real.
Naming is the origin of all particular things.
Free from desire, you realize the mystery.
Caught in desire, you see only the manifestations.
Yet mystery and manifestations
arise from the same source.
This source is called darkness.
Darkness within darkness.
The gateway to all understanding.
– Stephen Mitchell
Tao may be spoken of, but it is not the Truthful Tao.
Names may be named, but they are not the Truthful Names.
At the beginning, the myriad things are undifferentiated;
After being born, the myriad things are differentiated.
In the Truthful Undifferentiated State,
we observe subtle appearance of the individual myriad things;
In the Truthful Differentiated State,
we also observe the fading of the boundaries between the myriad things.
Both states appear simultaneously,
as Different manifestations of the same (Tao).
Profound upon profound,
They are the gateways to all mysteries.
– Wayne L. Wang