This is not the usual type of post. Instead it is a request for your ideas about ways to study and contemplate the Tao Te Ching for those who might be interested. This would be something separate from this blog, which is inspired in part by the Tao Te Ching, but doesn’t focus specifically or in depth on its verses.
This ancient text, comprising 81 short verses, is a classical Chinese wisdom teaching, inspiring Eastern culture, philosophy, martial arts, and religion for over 2,500 years. (I include religion in the list because although the text itself is not a religious text, and does not replace or negate any religious tradition, the Tao Te Ching is linked to Taoism, one of the major world religions.) Its influence is so widespread that it has been translated more than any writing in history except the Bible. Yet many of us in the West are unfamiliar with it.
I have loved the Tao Te Ching for decades. Two and a half years ago, after stepping back from writing and speaking and online activities, I was drawn more deeply into its wisdom and mystery. I set out with numerous translations to compare and contemplate the various interpretations. However, the translations were soon pushed aside in favor of going directly to the source, the original Chinese.
(No, I don’t speak or write Chinese, at least not well, and studying classical Chinese is not the way to become fluent in Chinese conversation. It would be like trying to learn English as a second language by studying Old English poetry.)
Taking a verse at a time, a line at a time, a character at a time, I delved into the rhythm and beauty of the fluid imagery, understanding before long the challenge faced by all the translators. The text is written in cryptic poetry, using characters embracing multiple meanings, defying clarity of meaning. Like the Tao itself, the text invites us to transcend our thinking, verbal minds and enter the “gateless gate” into mystery.
When I began in January 2014, I had no time line or agenda or even goal in mind. For me, this became a spiritual practice of contemplation. I didn’t know how long I would do it or where it would lead. Now, two and a half years later, I have come to the end of the last verse, and know that I am still at the beginning.
Along the way, I have been privileged to participate in some small gatherings, some one on one conversations, and this No Way Café blog, giving me the opportunity to share ideas and experiences. Some folks have encouraged me to offer some in depth discussion to those who might want to learn more about this ancient text. So this is what I’m proposing, and I’d like to know what you think about it.
If there is enough interest, I will form an online group to go through the text a verse at a time. No, you wouldn’t need to learn classical Chinese! But I will share information about some of the more significant characters, much as I have in some posts on this blog. Everyone will need access to a translation. There are many to choose from in various formats–hard copy books, ebooks, and online. We don’t all need the same translation. Indeed, the more variety, the more interesting our discussions will be.
If this piques your interest at all, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any comments, suggestions, questions. Expressing interest is not a commitment–it will just help me see if there is enough interest to proceed with the idea. I would like to get as much feedback as possible, so don’t be shy. I see if there is enough interest to sustain a group, we can work out the details and logistics. You are also welcome to leave a comment on this post, of course.
Whether you are interested or not, thanks for reading the invitation. Now back to our regular programming….
Wishing you all the best, as always,