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The Eternal Tao Te Ching: The Philosophical Masterwork of Taoism and Its Relevance Today

by Benjamin Hoff

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"""A uniquely authentic translation based on the meanings of the ancient Chinese characters in use when the Taoist classic was written."""

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I read the Tao of Pooh and the Te of Piglet in the 90ies, and took deep impression from them, and was quite excited when I read that Benjamin Hoff was translating the Tao Te Ching. I understood it would take many years and rejoiced therefore when I learned that he had finished and published the results. I've read both a Swedish and another English translation of Tao Te Ching before, but Hoff's translation differs greatly, and I think it is for the better.

He have studied and researched the text like a scholar, but not as Owl but as a curious wanderer. Half the book is his notes and explanations for the decisions he have made and the research he have conducted. I would say that it is almost as interesting as the translation itself. Many characters have changed meaning over the years and the text has changed numerous times due to copying errors before the oldest known copy we have today. I sincerely hope Hoff's research is considered by all future translators, it is sad to realise too many translators only look to the modern meaning of the characters. It is also interesting to read about Hoff's theory about who Laozi was, but the theory is never concluded. It is hinted at but never really concluded.

Like in Te of Piglet, Hoff makes social comments and political parallels to modern day USA, but they usually falls flat as there is little analysis. He complains about the disregard for Nature and how the society is dominated by Yang power, and how that is a sure path to self-destruction as claimed in Tao Te Ching, but he doesn't really connects the dots between them. Nothing that reduce the important message but a bit sad given how much he cares about these topics. The only time it gets ridiculous – and then it gets really ridiculous – is in chapter 41 where he spends six and a half page on a political rambling and spends a full page on admiration of Masaru Emoto. Emoto claims to have shown that water can remember, an idea which homeopaths are very found of, and water that have been subject to Buddhist or Shinto prayers or positive thought or words forms more beautiful ice crystals when frozen than water subjected to negative thoughts or heavy metal (!), which formed asymmetrical and incomplete crystals. Sadly, a lot of Hoff's credibility evaporates at this point.

In summary, Benjamin Hoff has made an extensive and thoroughly researched translation of Tao Te Ching, and we can but hope all future translators studies his notes well before they start their own endeavours. I would not read any other English translation after have read his comments on the changes meanings of many a character as well as the many – supposed – missing or superfluous ones lost or added by copyists of old. ( )
  steverud | Dec 9, 2022 |
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