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Dao De Ching


Nick Bell
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Can anyone help me please. I am trying to get the traditional chinese text for the first line of the Dao De Ching. There are many different English translations but the text I am seeking is:

 

The Dao that can be understood is not the real Dao.

 

What I have come up with so far, through internet research, is:

 

道可以说﹐但不是通常所说的道

 

I have literally no undertanding of any form or Chinese language so don't know if this is complete, accurate or more than the first line.

 

Thank you for any assistance you can offer!

 

Nick

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In the edition I have, that is NOT the first line.  Did you just put "The Dao that can be understood is not the real Dao" into Google translate or something?

 

In addition, that looks to me like simplified rather than traditional Chinese.

 

In my edition, the first line is:

 

道可道非常道

 

But that's the simplified characters.

 

 

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Nick,

 

First line:

道可道,非常道。

The first term is 道可道. These three Chinese characters are 道 (dào) 可 (kě) 道 (dào).

The first character is tao (道 dào). Tao (Dao) is the uncreated, unborn, and eternal energy of nature, which manifests periodically.

The second character is 可 (kě). This means can or be able to. This refers to that part of the Tao which is only a potential; the unmanifested, immutable Tao.

The third character is the same as the first character, tao (道 dào).

The second and third characters (可道 kě dào) combine to mean “the potential to become Tao”.

The term 道可道 (dào kě dào) can therefore be translated as “the unmanifested, immutable Tao”.

 

The second group of three Chinese characters is 非常道 (fēi cháng dào). The two characters 非常 (fēi cháng) translate in everyday conversational Chinese as “very”. But in this context they mean “change” or “non-eternal”. The idea is that this aspect of the Tao is manifesting and mutable.

The three characters combine to mean The Tao which is manifesting and mutable.

 

Here, then, are the six characters in the first line.

道可道, 非常道。 (Dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào, )

The eternal, unmanifested, immutable Tao, (and) the manifesting and mutable (temporary and changing) Tao.

~~~

Should you wish to learn the second line, please do not hesitate to ask.

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Here's a good link to the whole text, in traditional characters, with English (& French / German) translations below, plus every character gets translated on scroll over. 

 

Traditional Chinese is right-to-left, top-to-bottom, so start on the right-top, and go down, and move left.

 

http://wengu.tartarie.com/wg/wengu.php?l=Daodejing&no=1

 

On 10/7/2021 at 5:10 AM, NinjaTurtle said:

The second and third characters (可道 kě dào) combine to mean “the potential to become Tao”.

 

I thought 可道 just meant "can be spoken," similar to 可说.

 

On 10/7/2021 at 5:10 AM, NinjaTurtle said:

The second group of three Chinese characters is 非常道 (fēi cháng dào). The two characters 非常 (fēi cháng) translate in everyday conversational Chinese as “very”. But in this context they mean “change” or “non-eternal”. The idea is that this aspect of the Tao is manifesting and mutable.

 

I thought this just mean 非 (not) 常 (the main or the always or the constant).  So the Way that can be spoken of is not always the Way. 

 

I haven't studied this academically, so there may be more esoteric readings.  But a surface understanding seems to match the common English translation.

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On 10/6/2021 at 11:36 PM, phills said:

I thought 可道 just meant "can be spoken," similar to 可说.

 

Phills,

 

Consider, if you will, the logistical difficulties Lao-tse faced when  he wrote the Tao Te Chi in the fourth century BC. He was trying to explain the very nature of the universe, and trying to teach it to uneducated, common people. Try to imagine if Lao-tse had tried to teach concepts like how light travels at 186,000 miles a second, how our galaxy is 100,000 light-years across, or how the universe contains billions of galaxies. Most importantly, Try to imagine how difficult it was for Lao-tse to explain the condition of things before the Big Bang occurred. These are the limitations which Lao-tse struggled with.

 

One of the biggest problems he faced was just finding vocabulary to describe the events he was describing. Obviously, when he used 可道  in his writings, he was not talking about anything ‘being spoken.’ It was just a metaphor, a use of a verb to describe something that had no way of being described in the language at that time.

 

Considering the vocabulary limitations Lao-tse had, I think he did a pretty good job of getting us to just consider the differences between the eternal (non-changing) Tao and the periodically appearing (and eventually disappearing) Tao.

 

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On 10/6/2021 at 11:36 PM, phills said:

So the Way that can be spoken of is not always the Way. 

 

My interpretation of this is the eternal, non-changing Tao (1) is not the same as the periodically-appearing Tao (2), so that the Way (1) that can be spoken of is not always the Way (2), and trying to describe one of these with vocabulary that is used to describe the other is not going to work.

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I thought it might be fun to look at the second line of the Tao Te Ching.

 

名可名,非常名。 Ming kě míng, fēi cháng míng,

 

The first three characters are 名可名 (míng kě míng). The character 名 (míng) means name. Here it can be loosely translated as the universe. The character 可 (kě), the same as used earlier, refers to an eternal, unchanging aspect. The characters 名可名 (míng kě míng), then, refer to the eternal, unchanging universe.

 

The second line is similar to the first line in how it refers to the ‘eternal’ universe vs. the periodically appearing universe.

 

The meaning of the second line:

 

名可名,非常名。 Ming kě míng, fēi cháng míng,

 

The eternal, unchanging universe (and) the periodically appearing universe.

 

Here, then, are the first two lines.

道可道,非常道。Dào kě dào, fēi cháng dào,
名可名,非常名。 Ming kě míng, fēi cháng míng.

 

Note the only difference between the first line and the second line are the characters 道 and 名. It seems Lao-tse is drawing a distinction between the Tao and the universe.

 

 

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I'm surprised to see "可道" being translated as "the potential to become Tao" and "道可道" as "the unmanifested, immutable Tao".

 

The "道德经" edition from 中国华侨出版社 explains it as follows: "道 可 道, 非常 道: 第一个“ 道” 和 第 三个“ 道” 是 名词, 指的 是 宇宙 的 本原 和 实质, 引申 为 原理、 原则、 真理、 规律 等。 第二个“ 道” 是 动词, 意思为 解说、 表述。“ 非”, 即 不是 的 意思。“ 常”, 本来 写作“ 恒”, 意思是 永远 的、 恒 常 的。"

 

The translation into modern language from the same book: "能用 语言 表述 出来 的“ 道”, 都不 是 永恒 的、 终极 的“ 道”. 

So according to this the translation would approximately be "The Dao that can be explained with words is not the eternal, ultimate Dao". 

 

Very similar is the explanation in the edition from北京联合出版公司:““道” 是 无法 用 言语 清晰 地表 达 出来 的, 如果 可以, 就不 是我 们 所说 的“ 大道”;“. 

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What's interesting to see is that you can't really meaningfully translate a wisdom text like the Dao without interpreting it.

 

Quote

"The Dao that can be explained with words is not the eternal, ultimate Dao". 

 

I very much like this interpretation.  It rings very true to me.

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