Sunday, 24 October 2021

About My Translation of Dao De Jing

The Chinese language is inherently suggestive and what one may call ambiguous. It is like a river with many turns that can never become absolutely concrete in its direction, yet those who learn to surrender to its flow are taken on a journey full of meaning. A Chinese word has many simultaneous meanings. Though the English language is more precise, it too has words that have multiple, diverging meanings. For instance, the word deep. It can mean a certain altitude below a given surface area, it may mean profundity, it may also imply a certain intensity of mood. Let’s take the following English sentence as an example: John’s heart is not well. This may either mean John has a medical condition with his heart; it may also mean he is not feeling happy. Every Chinese word, phrase and sentence fundamentally has this quality. We may say that English is precise and intellectual, whereas Chinese is suggestive and intuitive. This typically allowed Chinese mystics to write on several levels at the same time, making their communications multidimensional. For this reason I like to compare their words to a seed; when planted in the soils of ever growing mystical experience, their meaning sprouts and unfolds like a tree with many branches and leaves. If one’s mystical cultivation is still young, however, one’s apprehension of these texts can be compared to a nascent sapling with only few branches and leaves. Due to the nature of the Chinese language, and indeed the nature of Taoist mysticism itself, the ancient sages did not necessarily write with intellectual precision as if drawing a roadmap with words. Rather their language was suggestive and inherently poetic, hinting unto that river down which they journeyed; a river that is certainly, concretely there, and yet its way is indistinct and diverse. It may be said that in this way the Chinese mystic sensitizes you to the cosmic currents of Tao. They did not seek to create an intellectual model in your head, which is something that our Western mindset fundamentally seeks from an explanatory text, but rather guided their readers’ minds towards the intuitive experience of Tao. Ironically enough, this is perhaps as concrete language can ever get when it comes down to expressing the meaning of life. An English text would seek to explain things in intellectual concepts, a Chinese Taoist text seeks to induce intuitive experience. Not wishing to invalidate the work of others, academical translations of Dao De Jing that try to present the text as a literal, word for word transition to the English language never conveyed much mystical meaning to me. A one on one translation does not work, because English words are not as pregnant in meaning as their Chinese counterparts. English words cannot fulfil the same seed function as Chinese words. I therefore found it important not to put words to the seeds but to the branches and the leaves, which means I give meaning to what these seeds suggestively imply. In this I allowed myself to be guided by my humble mystical experience. Due to my inherently different approach, the erudite members of the Taoist community advised me that in our Western culture of rigid classification, it is important that I clarify that my version of Dao De Jing is not based upon trying to produce a literal translation, for indeed it seems to me that such a thing is a fallacy. Instead, I should classify my version of the text as an English interpretation, based on mystical experience; I do keep as close to the original wording as much as possible.

Aviilokín K'shi

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