Tao Te Ching
The Taoist Classic by Lao Tzu
Translated and Explained
There's a forest of books about Taoism, Lao Tzu, and the
Tao Te Ching. It makes no sense to list them all, so I have
chosen a few versions of the Tao Te Ching that I value or find
significant in the continued exploration of Lao Tzu's
Less important works are also included, if they
appeared before the present flood of Taoism texts emerged.
The subject is a hot one, so new books will appear as
you read this, but I believe that some of the sources listed
below will not that quickly be obsolete.
I have added a short comment to every version
listed. It's just my personal opinion, so don't trust it any
longer than you find it useful. Once you have started your
own exploration of the subject, there's no guide more
trustworthy than your own inkling.
As for the resources on the Internet, they change
so quickly that I can only recommend a Google search
(or whatever search engine is the most prominent one,
when you read this). Notice that different spellings give
partly different search results. For example, Tao Te
Ching, Dao De Jing, and
Daodejing searches differ, although the
major search engines regard them as synonymous. The same
is true for Lao Tzu, Lao Zi, and
Laozi. Many complete translations of the
Tao Te Ching are available on the Internet.
Tao Te Ching Versions
Ames, Roger T. & Hall, David L.: DAO DE JING
New York, Ballantine 2003.
A knowledgeable and rather daring version, which also
presents the text in Chinese. The findings in Guodian are
richly presented and included in the interpretation.
Blakney, Raymond B.: LAO TZU
USA, New American Library 1955.
A straightforward and clear version of the text, with
elaborate comments and explanations.
Bynner, Witter: THE WAY OF LIFE ACCORDING TO LAOTZU
New York, Day 1944.
An American version, which is also its subtitle. It's based
on English versions of that time. In the effort to clarify
the chapters, he allows himself to deviate quite far from
Lao Tzu's text.
Chen, Ellen M.: THE TAO TE CHING
New York, Paragon 1989.
With a knowledge that is only surpassed by the
categorical attitude, Chen presents a version that includes but is
far from dominated by the Mawangdui manuscripts. Lots
of facts are also included, as well as far-reaching personal
interpretations of Taoist philosophy and how to apply it.
Cheng, Man-jan: LAO TZU: MY WORDS ARE VERY EASY TO UNDERSTAND
California, North Atlantic Books 1981. Translated to English
by Tam C. Gibbs.
Cheng comments the chapters of the text in short
lessons, focused on the principles of Taoism. The explanations are
so short that they don't add much to the text itself. The
Chinese text is included in the book.
Cleary, Thomas: THE ESSENTIAL TAO
San Francisco, Harper Collins 1993.
The East Asian Studies PhD has translated several
Taoist and Buddhist texts, which have been published in a
number of different volumes. This one contains the texts of
both Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. His translation is competent,
although his choice of words is sometimes odd,
deviating from the usual solutions.
Crowley, Aleister: THE TAO TEH KING
1918. Several editions in print.
The famous occultist made his own very personal
interpretation of the text, where the hexagrams of
I Ching have also been used. Crowley is always worth reading, although
it's not certain that he speaks according to the Tao of Lao Tzu.
Duyvendak, J.J.L.: TAO TE CHING
London, Murray 1954.
This professor in Chinese fills his version of the text
with elaborate comments, including linguistic and
philosophical aspects. This version is one of the few that met the
approval of the prominent sinologist Bernhard Karlgren.
Feng, Gia-fu & English, Jane: LAO TSU: TAO TE CHING
London, Wildwood 1973.
This version is simple and rewarding, although it isn't
always in accordance with prevalent opinion. It lacks
commentaries, but is richly illustrated with both calligraphy
of the chapters and mood-filled photographs.
Henricks, Robert: TE-TAO CHING
New York, Ballantine 1989.
The professor of religion manages a very trustworthy
version of the text, based primarily on the manuscripts of
Mawangdui. Because of their order, he has reversed the
words of the title. His comments are knowledgeable and
precise. The Mawangdui texts in Chinese are also included. This
is a major work on the Mawangdui findings.
Henricks, Robert: LAO TZU'S TAO TE CHING
New York, Columbia University Press 2000.
In this book, Henricks concentrates on the findings
in Guodian, which are competently presented and
examined. They are also compared to the Mawangdui and Wang
Pi versions. The texts are included in Chinese. The
problem with the book is that the order of the chapters is
according to the findings, which makes it difficult to use as a
reference. Hopefully, Henricks finds a solution for it in a coming
Ivanhoe, Philip J.: THE DAODEJING OF LAOZI
Indianapolis, Hackett 2002.
The historian of Chinese thought has made a
straightforward and clean translation of the text, a learned
introduction to it, and comparisons between other
translations. There are also many informative notes.
Jiyu, Ren: A TAOIST CLASSIC: THE BOOK OF LAO ZI
Beijing, Foreign Languages Press 1993.
This Chinese version translated to English also contains
precise explanations that focus on how to understand the
philosophy of the text and of Taoism. The interpretation and
the perspectives are frequently quite far from those of
most Western translators, which makes the book particularly
interesting to study.
Julien, Stanislas: LE LIVRE DE LA VOIE ET DE LA VERTU
Julien was a professor in Chinese at the Paris University.
His French version is the first printed one in a Western
language. It is still in print, as a facsimile. Unfortunately,
no English translation of it seems to be in print.
Karlgren, Bernhard: NOTES ON LAO-TSE
Bulletin of Östasiatiska Museet, nr. 47/1975. Offprint.
The world famous Swedish sinologist finally published,
just three years before his demise, a version of the text. He
did so in a way as modest as was his habit – in a magazine of
the Stockholm East Asian Museum. His interpretation is
precise and clarifying, but the comments are minimal. At the
time of his interpretation, the findings in Mawangdui were
not at his disposal.
Lau, D.C.: LAO TZU: TAO TE CHING
London, Penguin 1963.
This professor of Chinese literature gives a
knowledgeable and clear interpretation of the text. The book also
contains explicit comments and explanations. In later editions of
this book, Lau includes the findings in Mawangdui
Legge, James: THE TAO TEH KING
London, Oxford 1891.
Legge's historically significant version has extensive
explanations with many references to the Chinese
pictograms and their meaning. Still, his translation is aged,
especially because of its effort to create poetry, which makes it
deviate considerably from the wording of the original.
Le Guin, Ursula K., and Seaton, J. P.: LAO TZU: TAO TE CHING
Boston, Shambhala 1997.
The famous fantasy and science fiction writer has made
an elegant and very clear version of the text, in
collaboration with a professor of Chinese. There are some comments,
especially on how the chapters should be understood and
on some linguistic aspects.
Mair, Victor H.: TAO TE CHING
New York, Bantam 1990.
This professor of Chinese bases his interpretation on
the Mawangdui manuscripts. The books also contains
extensive comments, especially those comparing the text with
the ideas of ancient India.
Maurer, Herrymon: TAO: THE WAY OF THE WAYS
England, Wildwood 1986.
These interpretations and comments are aimed at
explaining the text's spiritual content, which is done quite
cryptically at times. In spite of the late date of this version,
Maurer is unfamiliar with the Mawangdui manuscripts.
Mitchell, Stephen: TAO TE CHING: A NEW ENGLISH VERSION
USA, Harper & Row 1988.
This version, with very limited comments, seems to
be made without noticeable knowledge of the
Mawangdui manuscripts. Still, it has its merits as a simple and direct
interpretation of the text. Later editions have made it to
the bestseller lists.
Ryden, Edmund: LAOZI: DAODEJING
Oxford University Press 2008.
This version includes the Mawangdui and Guodian
findings. The introduction and comments are learned, but
the wording in the translation sometimes gives the
impression of being dated. Ryden translates
Te as "the life force," which is similar to Arthur Waley's choice of "the power."
Star, Jonathan: TAO TE CHING
New York, Tarcher Penguin 2001.
The subtitle says that this is the definitive edition, which
can be discussed. But its material is very rich. The
interpretation of the text is given in Star's own words, but also word
by word parallel to the Chinese signs – completely
according to the Wang Pi version. There is also some other
valuable material in the book. It is quite useful to the devoted
student of the Tao Te Ching. In spite of its late publishing date,
the Guodian manuscript seems unknown to the author.
That might be corrected in later editions.
Ta-Kao, Chu: TAO TE CHING
London, Mandala 1959.
Ta-Kao allows himself to rearrange the text according
to what he feels is the most probable. That can be
discussed. Otherwise, his interpretation is straightforward and
clear. The comments are sparse.
Wagner, Rudolf G.: A CHINESE READING OF THE DAODEJING
Albany, State University of New York Press 2003.
This is a translation of the Wang Pi commented version
of the Tao Te Ching, which is the most cherished one in
Chinese literature, a classic in its own right. The translation is
very competently done, and so are the expert comments.
The Chinese text is included. A must for the study of Wang Pi
as well as Lao Tzu, but not an easy book to digest.
Waley, Arthur: THE WAY AND ITS POWER
London, Unwin 1934.
Waley's cherished version is assisted by elaborate
comments and a long introduction. His interpretations of the
chapters are not always the most probable, but his book has won
the respect of several important sinologists.
Wilhelm, Richard: TAO TE CHING
London, Arkana 1985. Translated by H.G. Ostwald.
The first edition of Wilhelm's important interpretation
in German was published in 1910. In later editions it was
reworked considerably. The comments from 1925 are
elaborate about both the language aspects and the ideas of
the text. Wilhelm also made a widely spread version of the
I Ching, where he had C. G. Jung write the foreword. It's
a pity he didn't do the same with the Tao Te
Wing, R. L.: THE TAO OF POWER
New York, Doubleday 1986.
This version includes the Chinese writing, also
calligraphy as well as other illustrations of interest. The writer has
allowed himself the freedom of adapting some of the
wordings to modern concepts. The findings in Mawangdui
seem not to be used at all.
Yutang, Lin: THE WISDOM OF LAOTSE
New York, Random 1948.
The famous Chinese author made a pleasant
interpretation, bordering on religious devotion. The book also contains
a quantity of comments and explanations.
Tao Te Ching Explained
The 81 Chapters of Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
translated and explained by Stefan Stenudd.
My Taoism Books:
The Taoism of Lao Tzu Explained.
The great Taoist philosophy classic by Lao Tzu translated, and each of the 81 chapters extensively commented. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
More about the book here.
The Ancient Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu.
389 quotes from the foremost Taoist classic, divided into 51 prominent topics. Click the image to see the book at Amazon.
More about the book here.
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The 64 hexagrams of the Chinese classic I Ching
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