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Tao Te Ching [Paperback]

Stephen Mitchell
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (114 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 9 2000 Perennial Classics

Lao-tzu's Tao Te Ching, or Book of the Way, is the classic manual on the art of living, and one of the wonders of the world. In eighty-one brief chapters, the Tao Te Ching looks at the basic predicament of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit. This book is about wisdom in action. It teaches how to work for the good with the effortless skill that comes from being in accord with the Tao (the basic principle of the universe) and applies equally to good government and sexual love; to child rearing, business, and ecology.

Stephen Mitchell's bestselling version has been widely acclaimed as a gift to contemporary culture.


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"Beautiful and accessible; the English, as 'fluid as melting ice,' is a joy to read throughout." -- -- The New Republic

About the Author

Stephen Mitchell attended Amherst, the University of Paris, and Yale. His many books include The Book of Job, Tao Te Ching, Parables and Portraits, The Gospel According to Jesus, A Book of Psalms, Ahead of All Parting: The Selected Poetry and Prose of Rainer Maria Rilke, and Genesis. Byron Katie, author of Loving What Is and an inspirational speaker.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Excerpt | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Liberal translation of an ancient classic May 28 2004
Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao te Ching is a refreshing departure from most literal translations of such works. The fact that he attempts to translate the meaning as opposed to the language of the text is what makes it refreshing as well as suspect. The reader must rely upon Mitchell's spirtual background to have faith that they are reading a book by Lao Tzu as opposed to Stephen Mitchell. This is a good book for a reader seeking an easy to read Tao. More serious readers should consider reading a more standard translation prior to reading this book. Despite this caveat, I found this to be an excellent second book and read it more often that the more literal translation that I also own.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Modern Version of an Ancient Classic Feb. 10 2004
Tao Te Ching is ancient, now a couple of millenia in print. Stephen Mitchell has not translated this classic, but rather has paraphrased it -- as he admits in the Foreward. But he is a Zen student of a couple of decades and has good insight into the Zen of the Tao (Zen Buddhism is Buddhism heavily dosed with Taoism).
Mitchell's version of the Tao Te Ching is very, even extremely, modern. Perhaps to the point of being "politically correct." However, he does have a way with words and this is a very readable version of the Tao. To show how modern it is, let's take an example and compare his version of the beginning of chapter 46 with two other versions:
- Mitchell
"When a country is in harmony with the Tao,
the factories make trucks and tractors.
When a country goes counter to the Tao,
warheads are stockpiled outside the cities."
- Victor Mair
"When the Way prevails under heaven,
swift horses are relegated to fertilizing fields.
When the Way does not prevail under heaven,
war-horses breed in the suburbs."
- Addiss & Lombardo
"With TAO under heaven
Stray horses fertilze the fields.
Without TAO under heaven,
Warhorses are bred at the frontier."
Obviously, there were no factories, trucks, tractors, or warheads in ancient China. So, Mitchell is providing a modern interpretation of the Tao Te Ching, while Mair as well as Addiss & Lombardo are closer to a literal translation (which is not possible however, because the Chinese language and the English language are so completely different from one another.)
None of this is to find fault with Stephen Mitchell. This is just to say that his book cannot be definitive, because it is less literal and not really a translation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Why read a paraphrase instead of a translation? April 26 2002
As Mitchell admits, he doesn't read Chinese. Instead of calling this a "translation," he calls it an "English version." But why would you want to read a loose English paraphrase by someone who can't read either the original or the early Chinese commentaries on it when you could read a translation by any one of a number of gifted and insightful scholars?
The standard defense of a "version" like Mitchell's is that he has some special insight into the text that entitles him to interpret it. But the danger of an interpretation like Mitchell's is that it projects modern Western preconceptions onto the Tao Te Ching instead of allowing us to be challenged by the powerful, paradoxical, and even frightening original text. In fact, Mitchell projects Zen Buddhist and New Age ideas into his "interpetation." (And, No, Zen Buddhism is not the same as Taoism, any more than Catholicism is the same as Judaism.) Someone who actually reads the original Classical Chinese, and is familiar with the historical and cultural context in which the text was composed is much more likely to be insightful about the text. Another common comment is that someone like Mitchell doesn't get lost in boring scholarly stuff. But there are plenty of exciting, fun to read translations by people who can actually read the original. The first Tao Te Ching translation I read was by D.C. Lau. He was a truly great scholar, but his translation is very elegant and very readable. Other terrific translations by people who actually know the "text and context" include those by Victor Mair, Robert Henricks, and Philip J. Ivanhoe. (Ivanhoe's translation is available both as a separate book, and as part of the anthology he co-edited, Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy.)
Oh, and the "editorial review" that Amazon lists above is actually not a review of Mitchell's translation at all. (There is no way to report that using their "corrections" button.)
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterpiece Translation Aug. 25 2010
The soul of Chinese literature is poetry: from oldest "Book of Odes" to TangShu (Tang poetry) to SongZu (Song dynasty poetry) to YungQu (Yung dynasty poetry) . Underneath this glorious landscape were Lao Tzu's (551 B.C.) influences running through gem-like poems by Wang Wei, Li Po, Mon Ho Jung(701-761) and reached the sea of Japanese Haiku poets, Basho, Buson and Issa(1763-1827). It is obviously the prerequisite read for anyone who wants to understand Chinese culture and philosophies of Zen. Lao Tzu's impact goes further beyond that: as the "most widely translated book in world literature, after the bible," TAO TE CHING finds religious and political leaders, business owners and enlightened masters, readers and writers alike worldwide, return to the source of his words and find its use inexhaustible.

In certain times of ancient Chinese history, TAO TE CHING was reserved for emperors and rulers, while commoners were instructed to study Confucius and Mencius. This is because Lao Tzu's spiritual scripture is liberating and best suited for people ready to unlearn what they learned, let go of their egos and emptied their minds from the world of experience for the being of higher innocence. Thus Lao Tzu teaches truth through words of paradox:

All streams flow to the sea
because it is lower than they are.
Humility gives it its power. (66)

In 81 brief chapters that contains a mere 5000 Chinese words, Tao Te Ching "looks at the basic predicament of being alive and gives advice that imparts balance and perspective, a serene and generous spirit (Book cover). Mr.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A lucid, illuminating translation that I have read and re-read.
Published 3 days ago by Robrt Livingstone
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!
If you like Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao Te Ching, this is an excellent buy. I find Mitchell's translation to be simple and yet very eloquent. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Ryan
5.0 out of 5 stars new cover, same book.
the cover is different on the edition i got and it is a prettier cover than the original. but the book inside is still full of the same insight and wisdom.
Published 9 months ago by byron
5.0 out of 5 stars a gem for the entire globe and beyond
...this should be required reading for all
so simple so 'true" a wonderful translation. i bought several and keep giving them away to others...... Read more
Published 14 months ago by alexander keil
5.0 out of 5 stars befits of tao by mitchell
a very good version I practice the teachinhs and share with inmates in two institutions - it is a very valuable asset for me in my volunteer work as well as in my personal lif I... Read more
Published 15 months ago by jack martin
5.0 out of 5 stars An Incredible Book for anyone who is seeking a path or just trying to...
If your someone like myself your a skeptic when it comes to anything religious. I'm an ex-christian brought about by some very bad experiences in my youth which caused me to search... Read more
Published 16 months ago by N. Kunkel
5.0 out of 5 stars tao te ching
An excellent read - wonderfully concise, pure and 'simplistic'. Great interpretations of the ancient sayings, wonderfully written. A great daily meditation guide.
Published on Oct. 11 2011 by Paul in Ottawa
2.0 out of 5 stars Within Tao
Tao Te Ching: A New English Version I admire the translations of poetry by Stephen Mitchell, particularly his work with the poetry of Rilke, but I do find this translation just a... Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2010 by Johnny Darkness
1.0 out of 5 stars I am very confused as to how exactly this book got Published
My copy of the Daodejing is a wood-block print edition from China in traditional characters, thus, I don't really bother with buying new English Translations, especialy ones... Read more
Published on May 28 2004 by Austin M. Kramer
5.0 out of 5 stars GREAT INTERPRETATION
Published on March 3 2004 by P. Smith
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