Daodejing 1

My beloved friend, LU Wenlong, has been graciously going through Laozi‘s great work with me. He transliterates directly from the Chinese into the English, and then we dialog for a bit about an expressive translation. In doing this, I have found that many of the popular translations of the Daodejing are not all that wonderful.

The one that comes consistently close to our philosophizing about the work is the Ames & Hall Dao de Jing: A Philosophical Translation. The translation that has been most helpful in our work to express Laozi in English has been Derek Lin’s Tao Te Ching: Annotated & Explained.

With my good brother’s permission, I will be posting these translations here as we accomplish them. Of course, our ultimate goal is to complete the translation, write some small essays, and publish the text on Kindle. The translations here should be read as working translations.

With this poem, we begin the Book of Dào


Dào expressable in words
Is not eternal Dào[1]
The name that can be named
Is not the eternal name.

The nameless is the origin
Of Heaven and Earth.
The nameable is the
Mother of 10,000 things. [2]

Therefore, always be
Without desire to
Observe this mystery;
Being with desire
Always observes
the boundary.

These two things [4] come from
The same but with different names,
Both are called profound.

Profound and again profound,
The door of many mysteries.

*Translation by LU Wenlong & Keith Wayne Brown, ©2013.

[1] Dào literally means “way” or “path” or “avenue” in Chinese. In as much as the term is used to talk about the encompassing force which both backgrounds and guides all things in Heaven and Earth, Laozi implies that all things happen through Dào and all things are happiest when they walk Dào as their path. And really, this is us already saying too much.

[2] The phrase 10,000 things or objects is a metaphor for all of the things that exist under-heaven.

[3] Laozi describes a mystery, literally something which can be hinted at but not actually observed. Therefore, desiring to see it as a phenomenon can only reveal the profiles and exterior boundaries. Taking the “named” boundary as [Dào] loses Dào.

[4] The nameless and the nameable.


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