The Tao te Ching is a collection of verses dating back to 300 BCE, translated into Western languages over 250 times. Several versions sit on my bookshelf and the one I reach for most often is by Stephen Mitchell. Critics argue whether it’s the best, most accurate, or most genuinely Chinese version, while for me it’s been a silent guide along the Way (tao) for 30 years. It brims with wisdom, grace, and generosity. You won’t understand most of what I have to offer, it seems to be saying, but in some respects you already know.
In dwelling, live close to the ground.
In thinking, keep to the simple.
In conflict, be fair and generous.
In governing, don’t try to control.
In work, do what you enjoy.
In family life, be completely present.
When you are content to be simply yourself
and don’t compare or compete,
everybody will respect you.
How straightforward and yet unattainable; how contrary to our Western ways. Taoism is said to have influenced many Asian religions and philosophies, including Chinese Buddhism from which Japanese Zen was born. What I write about and how I approach my spiritual practice is informed by this.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate towards yourself,
you reconcile all being in the world.
If I had only these words to guide me — if they were the only text from which to learn about living a good life — I could think of no better instructor.
I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These are our greatest treasures.
text source: Excerpts from Mitchell, S. (1988). Tao te Ching. New York: HarperPerennial. image credit: Frankfurt/Main railway station, NY Times AP Photo.