The Tao Te Ching was written approximately 2500 years ago, allegedly by a man known as Lao Tze or Laotse. Tao Te Ching is Chinese, and each part translates to English as follows:
- Tao - 'The Way', 'The Path', 'The All'. In Judeo-Christian terminology, God, but frankly, it comes closer to 'The Force'. Also spelled Dao.
- Te - 'Integrity', 'Virtue', 'Character', 'Power'.
- Ching - 'Book'.
This amounts, literally, to 'The Book of Virtue of the Way'. The book is known well enough by its Chinese title, however, that an English translation is almost never used.
The best translation of the Tao Te Ching for English-speaking people is the Stephen Mitchell version. Chinese, as with any language, can be translated one of two ways - literally, so nothing makes sense, or poetically, in which the meaning comes across but the words may bear no resemblence to the original text. Mitchell strikes a good balance between the two and just generally writes well.
Another good translation is by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English. This version features both Chinese and English translations, and many beautiful photographs.
In 1973 two silk scrolls were discovered in Ma-wang-tui. This translation of the Tao Te Ching is among the oldest known and has been a reference for most translations written since.
'Tao Te Ching' is pronounced something like 'Dow Deh Jing'. The book is a series of 81 short poems and makes suggestions about how to follow 'The Way', and the Taoist philosophy stems from this text.
Taoism itself can be interpreted in almost infinite ways and is often mistaken for a religion. The adjective 'Taoistic' implies that something is especially 'in harmony' with the Tao. Thoreau's Walden, a beautiful spring day, and love are all wonderfully Taoistic.
The Tao Te Ching has exerted almost as great an influence on humanity as the Bible, which should repair most of the damage. The book has, happily, begun to attract greater attention among Westerners. It provides interesting food for thought and positive guidance, and its deceptively simple style is accessible to any reader.