The Way of Life


My friends at the social enterprise publishing house, The Word Machine, have put their edition of Tao on a free offer as an Amazon Kindle download for the next five days, so do go to Amazon here to download your free copy. It is I think the most beautiful of the many translations of the Tao and was written by the late American poet Witter Bynner.

As he says in his introduction:

“Legends as to Laotzu are more or less familiar. Immaculately conceived by a shooting-star, carried in his mother’s womb for sixty-two years and born, it is said, white-haired, in 604BC, he became in due time keeper of imperial archives at Loyang, an ancient capital in what is now the Chinese province of Honan.”

For those who have not read a translation of the Tao and wonder what the fuss is all about, it essentially does what it says on the tin: it outlines a Way of Life which these days might be termed sustainable. Written as a guide to those who govern, it provides sensible advice on the management of societies while simultaneously offering profound thoughts for the individual on how best to conduct one’s life.

Here’s the second of the eighty one verses:

People through finding something beautiful
Think something else unbeautiful,
Through finding one man fit
Judge another unfit.
Life and death, though stemming from each other, seem to conflict as stages of change,
Difficult and easy as phases of achievement,
Long and short as measures of contrast,
High and low as degrees of relation;
But, since the varying of tones gives music to a voice
And what is is the was of what shall be,
The sanest man
Sets up no deed,
Lays down no law,
Takes everything that happens as it comes,
As something to animate, not to appropriate,
To earn, not to own,
To accept naturally without self-importance:
If you never assume importance
You never lose it.