Confucius and Lao Tzu Notes from TCF Winter Training 2019
By Edna Brandt, L.Ac.
Professor Cheng was a scholar who studied, wrote, and lectured about Confucius (Kongzi) and Lao Tzu (Laozi). He wrote that Confucius taught the Dao of Humanity and that Lao Tzu taught the Dao of Heaven and Earth, and that our universe is complete when all three are together.
Confucius: Greatest Hits
Our inborn nature is good but it needs work
Dao is cultivated in society
Ritual, arts, education all shape us
Proper language and truth are vital
Proper relationships between people lead to social harmony
We must cultivate virtues in ourselves
Wood/Benevolence: Be a good human being
Fire/Propriety: Do the right thing at the right time
Earth/Reciprocity: Meet the needs of yourself and others equally; don’t blame
Metal/Righteousness: Be selfless; make peace with divine justice (that heaven gives and takes away)
Water/Wisdom: Know your own resources; stand firm in the unknown
Lao Tzu: Greatest Hits
Dao is found in nature, not in society
Human nature is good and doesn’t need work
We should be like an uncarved block
Organized government causes problems
Society creates excessive desires
Excessive desires cause problems
Language is not reality
Virtues are just made up words
Wu wei: don’t do, just be natural
Translations of Lao Tzu
There are many translations of Lao Tzu into English, and there is a wide range of quality and accuracy. Below are four that are generally accepted as good translations. All can be found at www.amazon.com. Start with the first two, Professor Cheng and John Wu.
- Professor Cheng’s translation: Lao Tzu: “My Words Are Very Easy to Understand.” Lectures on the Tao Teh Ching by Man-jan Cheng. Translated from the Chinese by Tam C. Gibbs. North Atlantic Books, Richmond, California, 1981.
Here is a link to a pdf of entire book: https://studyhappychinese.files.wordpress.com/2017/08/lao-tzu-my-words-are-very-easy-to-understand-lectures-on-the-tao-teh-ching.pdf
- Lao Tzu/Tao Teh Ching. Translated by Dr. John C.H. Wu. St. John’s University Press, New York, any edition.
- Lao-Tzu, Te-Tao Ching. Translated by Robert G. Henricks. Ballantine Books, New York, 1989.
- Tao Te Ching: A New Translation with Commentary. Ellen M. Chen. Paragon House Publishers, 1989.
There are also many translations to be found for free online. Our teacher Patrick Watson recommended reading at least three translations of Lao Tzu side-by-side, and I agree. (Maybe you have one on your bookshelf you’ve been meaning to read one day.) Reading more than one translation gives you a fuller feeling for the philosophy and also for the challenges of translating Chinese into English.
Check out Edward Slingerland’s book Trying Not to Try, which is a delightful book about Daoist thought and especially wu wei.
Here is a link to Slingerland’s free five-week online edX course on “early Chinese thought, exploring connections with Western philosophy, spirituality, mindfulness, modern science and everyday life.” I thought it was excellent and engaging. You can sign up to be notified when it starts again.
I liked this course also; it is more about ethics:
If you want to do something formal, here is an assignment I give to my acupuncture students:
Choose any five chapters of the Dao De Jing and read those same five chapters in three different translations. Use the John C.H. Wu version as one translation. Many other translations are available on the internet or as published books. These do not have to be English translations; if you read another language, feel free to use a version in that language, including Chinese.
Write at least 500 words:
1. Explain three or more things you learned about Daoism from reading these five chapters.
2. Explain three or more things you learned about translating Chinese into another language.