I have a couple different versions of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu, one is the print copy translated by Jonathan Star “The New Translation From Tao Te Ching: The Definitive Edition” and I also have a wonderful Audible version “Tao Te Ching” read and translated by Stephen Mitchell. Both of these versions are excellent translations and worthy of a read or listen. It is believed that Lao Tzu, who was an ancient Chinese philosopher and writer was the author of the Tao Te Ching written around 500 B.C. The story is that he was leaving his province in China on a horse when he was asked by the towns people to write down his wisdom before embarking on this trip. He spent the next couple days writing the Tao Te Ching consisting of 81 verses or chapters.
Now that you have a bit of history I will make an attempt to summarize this book. Let me first start with I have read hundreds of books and this little book some 102 pages is in my top 5. In fact, I read a couple verses from it every morning. The soft cover version costs a whopping 10 USD. While I enjoy the Audible version, I recommend getting the written version, which you could read cover to cover in a couple hours of less. The key to understanding the Tao Te Ching is to try to grasp the concept of the Tao. You might think of Tao as the path or the way. The Tao can also be thought of as the underlying life force or for me the nature of things. This little book addresses how you should live in accordance with the Tao, and the philosophy conveyed is not confined to individuals, but to the greater society and government as a whole. The Tao Te Ching had such an impact on the world that it spawned a whole movement called Taoism, that still exists today. You would be hard pressed when reading this book to find any verse that is not profound, this is the true genius of this work. I think to make my point I will share Verse 1 from the Jonathan Star translation:
Verse 1 A way that can be walked in not The Way A name that can be named is not The Name Tao is both Named and Nameless As Nameless, it is the origin of all things As Named, it is the mother of all things A mind free of thought, merged within itself, beholds the essence of Tao A mind filled with thought, identified with its own perceptions, beholds the mere forms of the world Tao and this world seem different but in truth they are the same The only difference is in what we call them
There are many themes in the Tao Te Ching that will remind you of the teachings of the Buddha such as less is more, living in accordance with nature, and that much of our suffering is self imposed from an attachment to desire. If you are already a fan of Stoicism or Buddhism this book will resonate with you.
As you may have noticed already, I am a big fan of the Tao Te Ching. There is absolutely nothing that I don’t love about this book, except to wish it was longer. This is the kind of book that could change your life if you let it permeate your consciousness. It is a recipe for living and for society, that has withstood the test of time and will live on long after we have left this world.