Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tao Books - Wen Tzu

I wanted to step back from my 6 month series before offering a brief review of Wen-tzu: Understanding the Mysteries by Thomas Cleary. I thought about describing the difference between it and the Tao Te Ching in poetic terms. It could be said that the latter is the melody, while the former is the back beat or, possibly, the harmony.

I decided, however, not to go there.

In many ways, it's difficult to compare the works that feature the so-called words and thoughts of Lao Tzu. For one thing, as I've mentioned many times before, it is VERY unclear whether or not Lao Tzu existed at all and, even if he did walk this earth, if any of the philosophy ascribed to him actually came from him. In actuality, anytime someone refers to the perspective of Lao Tzu what we're really referring to is a general philosophy that was developed by countless individuals and groups over a long period of time.

In this same vein, I think it's rather obvious that the TTC and the Wen Tzu were not written by the same set of authors! While they share many themes, imagery and concepts, there is also a bit of divergence. It appears to me that the authors of the Wen Tzu set out to put the "meat on the bones", so to speak, of the poetic and, sometimes, mysterious renderings of the Tao Te Ching.

As those of you who followed my series on the book surely noted, the one chief drawback to the Wen Tzu is its repetitious nature. Many phrases were used again and again and again. In all frankness, there were a few times I found myself talking to the book, "Okay, we've covered this point before. No sense grinding it into the ground."

Overall, however, this book was an interesting, thought provoking and enjoyable read; it will have a permanent place on my nightstand. It well illustrates the evolution of philosophical Taoist thought and I think it should be added to the library of any serious Taoist reader.


  1. Thomas Cleary is great, but perhaps there are subtleties that are lost in translation.

    I will be in China in a week and intend to ask my Chinese teacher there for his take on it, where he puts it in the canonical tradition. He did not teach it, and it does not seem central to any of the philosophy and practices he conveyed.

  2. I'm sure there are!! A work is never as beautiful and as intelligible when it is translated from one tongue to another.


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