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Lao Tse, On the Nature of the Way

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Unrecognized for years, Lao Tse was one of the early hypertext masters.

He resisted the interface we know as the book, refusing to write one until his students trapped him at an inn near the border, before he escaped from China.

His text is a net of cross references, with key terms repeatedly playing off each other, in new contexts, to yield new meanings.

This Web poem, based on the Tao Te Ching, forms an uncarved block, covered with a gossamer mesh of links designed to catch the mind like a fly.

His style is structural.

He organizes each word as a unit in a series of parallel word-piles. Each word acts as an object within a three-dimensional array, linked to its opposites and to its echoes by the jump of the eye, the click of the mouse.

These English-language web poems are laid out in tables, just as the master sketched the originals in columns of Chinese characters.

His thought ridicules dialectic and argument, but his expression often relies on antithesis, developing contrasts in parallels, so his text is sometimes as symmetrical and regular as the street plan for Kyoto. 

But he slides out of this balance with surprising twists, new angles, unsettling the rhythm just when it has become established.

He governs the text without apparent control. He fills it with nothing special, observations that sound like folk tales, never clever, always a bit plain. 

He combats our tendency to act, urging us not to try so hard, shifting our attention away from bright fortune, sharpened swords, jewelry made of green jade, and the clang of war. He directs our inner eye to the peace that comes from silence, thrift, and humility.  That's the way.  

Not talking, you can go deeper. 

That's why Lao Tse resisted writing anything down in a book. In fact, he argues that the names that can be spoken are not the true names.  Truth, being, and infinite awareness--if we devote ourselves to these, he seems to say, we become wise.

His Web site provides all of us later hypertexters with a model for depth of content using the barest of texts and virtual images. When we seek the roots of hyper poetry, his web naturally shows us the way.

--Jonathan Price

 

For more information

If you would like to explore Lao Tse, the Tao Te Ching, and Taoism, you'll find the following sites helpful.

The Taoism Information Page has a great collection of links to information around the world.

The Taoist Restoration Society site uses text and images to keep the old way clean.

For a very Western view from Steven Ericsson-Zenith, visit the Temple of the Immortal Spirit, the Western Taoist. 

For a personal, poetic, and practical take on Taoism, see Tales from the Tao.

Taoism and Poetry offers haiku, books, and a poetry playground.

If you are interested in doing Tai Chi, check Taoism and the Philosophy of Tai Chi Chuan.

 

Other translations

The E-Depot provides a list of other current e-translations.

Rick Harbaugh offers a Chinese text. You can click on a character to get the etymology in English.

If you are brave, and can stand buffeting, check out more than two dozen different translations of the first chapter.  Best, by us, are Bynners, Heider, and Waley.

China Page offers Peter A. Merel's interpolation (translation merging several sources) along with Chinese language versions in Gifs, as well as a manuscript page from Chao Meng Fu, of the Ming Dynasty,

Mountain Man Graphics in Australia offers Raymond Blakney's 1955 translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Stephen Mitchell's translation appears in the material on Exploring Ancient World Cultures.

Charles Muller's Resources for East Asian Language and Thought contains another translation.

Another contemporary version is Stan Rosenthal's gifted translation of Tao Te Ching

Lin Yutang's sensitive translation appears on the Web courtesy of Karen McCormack.

Lance Muresan offers a photographic interpretation.

 

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