Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Translated by Stephen Mitchell) : Book Review

First of all, thanks a ton to Storytel for helping me read in my slump. Even though I can only get through 5 pages a day when it comes to physical books /ebooks these days, I have still been finishing audiobooks and I am so very grateful.


Tao Te Ching (pronounced, more or less, Dow Deh Jing) can be translated as The Book of the Immanence of the Way or The Book of the Way and of How It Manifests Itself in the World or, simply, The Book of the Way. Since it is already well known by its Chinese title, I have let that stand.

About the author:

About Lao-tzu, its author, there is practically nothing to be said. He may have been an older contemporary of Confucius (551-479 B.C.E.) and may have held the position of archive-keeper in one of the petty kingdoms of the time. But all the information that has come down to us is highly suspect. Even the meaning of his name is uncertain (the most likely interpretations: “the Old Master” or, more picturesquely, “the Old Boy”).

Like an Iroquois woodsman, he left no traces. All he left us is his book: the classic manual on the art of living, written in style of gemlike lucidity, radiant with humor and grace and largeheartedness and deep wisdom : one of the wonders of the world.

People usually think of Lao-tzu as a hermit, a dropout from society, dwelling serenely in some mountain hut, unvisited except perhaps by the occasional traveler arriving from a ’60s joke to ask, “What is the meaning of life?” But it’s clear from his teachings that he deeply cared about society, if society means the welfare of one’s fellow human beings; his book is, among other things , a treatise on the art of government, whether of a country or of a child. The misperception may arise from his insistence on wei wu wei, literally “doing not-doing,” which has been seen as passivity. Nothing could be further from the truth.

(Summary and About the author taken from Foreword written by Stephen Mitchell)

My review:

Rating : 3.5 ⭐/5

This is the most conflicting read I have ever come across. I think I might need more time to process the teachings offered.
Though I agree with most of what it said, some of them are completely paradoxical and very impractical.
To be able to throw away morality and justice, to believe in people and trust their will and to govern people by letting things be can only be achieved if everyone is one with Tao. Every single one.

Because otherwise, chaos will prevail and there will be no world left to teach about Tao.

Something that messed with my head was the chapter in which it is said that decent men do not use weapons, they don’t touch them but when they are provoked, they use it with the utmost restraint. And in another few chapters, it is said that more the weapons are, less secure the people are. In my perception, the author is trying to talk of the people and their true natures and how nobody wants to kill but they are pushed to the limit to do so because they are caught up in worldly possessions. That true peace as well as security only comes with love and compassion and not weapons and armour. What is impractical and contradictory here is, it (peace) can only be achieved if everyone lets go of emotions, worldly possessions and loved ones. And stop caring altogether. Stops being human. Yet the author urges for us to be as human as possible.

Then, the author talks about not knowing things and how knowing things will cause arrogance and how arrogance will stop us from acquiring the true knowledge. What perplexes me is how can one know that what they have learnt ultimately is the true knowledge or it’s not. How would they know what’s true and what’s not if they choose to keep their eyes closed at all times and choose to not know things?

So, the only answer I can take out of this is (and which has not been clearly explained but hinted at) is to know things, know everything but do not let it cloud your senses. Do not let it hamper your judgement. Do not let it take over you. Keep your mind open as a sky and take everything in but when the time comes and you are at crossroads, let it go. Unlearn all of it and learn better. And that’s how you will get to the true knowledge.

Here, in my opinion, the author isn’t hinting at ignorance is bliss. What he is hinting at is, know better, keep your mind and eyes open. Do not get caught up in concepts. Let your mind wander.

I liked this book but it has confused me a lot and I would need time to ponder upon the things I have perceived from it.

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Official Website : https://www.storytel.com


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