WISDOM OF THE TAO TE CHING: The Code of a Spiritual Warrior - eBook by Ashok Kumar Malhotra
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Ashok Kumar Malhotra
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(Introduction by Ronnie Littlejohn, Chair, Philosophy Department, Belmont University)
One Saturday afternoon in July 1992, I was working on a manuscript, Pathways To Philosophy, when the telephone rang...I said mechanically “good afternoon, this is Dr. Malhotra’s office.” The person on the other end said that it was Warner Brothers TV department....asked the reason for the call. The caller was a woman who introduced herself as a research assistant to Mr. Ken Parks, the lawyer for the Warner Brothers. I reiterated my original question, asking her the reason for the call. The conversation proceeded as follows:
Caller: “Warner Brothers is doing a new series called Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. The series will consist of 22 episodes, some of which will be shot in Toronto.”
Ashok: “In what way can I help?”
Caller: “We are using some lines from an ancient manuscript from China or Japan. These lines will be spoken by David Carradine. We need your help in finding the source of these lines, as well as transforming these so that they could be used in the TV series.”
Ashok: “How did you find my name and why do you think that I could help you with this project?”
Caller: “Our research department found your name because you are a reputed scholar in this area.”
Ashok: (in the state of half belief) “Could you please fax the text so that I could look at it? Here is my fax number.”
Caller: “I am faxing you the text immediately. Please respond when you receive it. Thanks.”
Ashok: “I am looking forward to receiving the text.”
... The fax arrived a few minutes later. I looked at the letterhead and it was from the research department of Warner Brothers. I could not believe my eyes! I glanced through the pages of the text and was surprised to see that they were from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu. My surprise was due the fact that I had just finished a chapter on Taoism to be included in Pathways to Philosophy. I could not believe this miraculous coincidence. I readily accepted the offer from Warner Brothers....After the TV Series was aired during the 1993‑1994 season, I received many encouraging comments from scholars regarding my transcreation. Inspired by their remarks, I decided to transcreate the entire text of the Tao Te Ching for use by the undergraduate students as well as the general public.
The origins of the Tao Te Ching are shrouded in mystery. Legend has it that the book was composed by a Chinese sage known as “Lao tzu” (circa 600 BC). According to one popular account, Lao tzu was stopped at the western border of the kingdom by a seemingly ordinary guard. Fortunately, this was not your stereotypical gruff, ignorant border guard who searched travelers for jade and other material objects considered precious by his society, but rather an exceptional man who had the presence of mind to realize that Lao tzu was leaving the country with something of far greater value: timeless insight and understanding concerning human nature as well as the world in which we live. He prevailed upon the traveler to jot down the essential elements of his wisdom in a sort, pithy book known to generations of Chinese as “The Lao tzu” (i.e. the book written by Lao tzu). It is now known to the world at large as “The Tao Te Ching” (roughly, “The Way/Power of the Tao and the Te”).
The tale of the border guard who sees what others miss is a lovely story, but many contemporary scholars regard it as just that: a story. Textual and historical evidence, they argue, suggests that the text was composed over a period of years – perhaps even several hundred years – by an unidentified assortment of authors. For scholars, the difference in these two accounts is profoundly significant. The first presupposed a virtual god-man, a singular sage who reluctantly shared a small portion of his knowledge with a world he was leaving behind: a world that did not – and perhaps even still cannot – understand more than a tiny fraction of the wisdom contained in the pages of the text. The second account makes a very different set of assumptions: namely, that there was an ongoing community of scholars who discussed and debated the principal issues of the text over a period of time, gradually working out a reasonably consistent set of answers to questions about human nature (the social and/or political world in which we make our lives), relationships between humans and nonhumans (the so-called “natural world” in which we are immersed), and even relationships between each of these and a more fundamental/basic/all-pervading yet paradoxically elusive “reality” known variously as “Tao” or “Te”.
Even Lao tzu himself is a figure shrouded in mystery. One legend claims that he was already an old man when he was born (bearded, wizened, etc.). The term “Lao tzu” (also rendered “Laozi”) means roughly “ancient, revered teacher” and thus is not likely to be a proper name, but rather an honorific title used by his students. Not surprisingly, some scholars have come to question the existence of Lao tzu as a singular, historical individual, choosing to treat him instead as a composite of the many different sages who pondered the Tao and composed the various segments of the Tao Te Ching over a protracted period of time.
The author and the audience:
Professor Ashok Kumar Malhotra is a critically acclaimed author who has published books in Existentialism and Asian Philosophy, as well as translations of two classic texts of India: the Bhagavad Gita (Prentice Hall, 1999) and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Ashgate, 2001). Because he is also an uncommonly conscientious and gifted teacher, he has been named a “Distinguished Teaching Professor” by the State University of New York (the highest rank available, awarded only to a select few following extensive review and recommendation by the Chancellor to the Board of Trustees). As such, he approaches a text like the Tao Te Ching with a dual perspective cultivated over a lifetime of intellectual inquiry and human exchange: he combines the critical, scholarly, and insightful mind of a philosopher with the patient, skilful, and experienced heart of a true teacher. The result is a product that Dr. Malhotra likes to call a “transcreation.” Instead of focusing on a “translation” of the words from one language to another, he labors to find a clear, easy-to-understand way of expressing the meaning. Hence the title of this text: “Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching: The Code of a Spiritual Warrior.” As Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn indicates in his [preface], Dr. Malhotra’s “transcreation” is not only more accessible than many alternative translations, but conveys the vitality of the text in a way that often gets lost in the process of trying to render a strict linguistic equivalent.
The Chinese term rendered “Tao” or “Dao” is pronounced with a sound somewhere between the two alternative spellings: i.e. with an initial sound somewhere between a “T” and a “D” followed by “ow” (as in “how now brown cow”). In similar manner, “Te” is sometimes rendered “De” (pronounced somewhere between “duh” and “day”) and “Ching” many be expressed as “jing” (as in “Jingle Bells”). In recent years, the People’s Republic of China and many scholars (e.g. Dr. Littlejohn) have come to prefer “Daodejing” to “Tao Te Ching”. Thus in creating the present “transcreation,” Dr. Malhotra was faced with a choice. Should he use the linguistic form popular with contemporary scholars (Daodejing) or the one most readily recognized by ordinary Americans (Tao Te Ching)? For Dr. Malhotra, the choice was obvious; for his goal was not to impress other scholars, but rather to make the text accessible to college students as well as the general public. Moreover, in the final analysis, the choice between “Tao” and “Dao” is at best arbitrary and incomplete: neither corresponds directly to the Chinese symbol it attempts to represent. In fact, as expressed in the opening line of the Tao Te Ching (Chapter 1), even the Chinese symbol fails to correspond to the true Tao!
Because Dr. Malhotra has used ordinary, easy-to-understand language, Wisdom of the Tao Te Ching: The Code of a Spiritual Warrior is an ideal book for beginners. You do not need a background in either Philosophy or Chinese Studies to access the wisdom of the Tao. It is also a useful book for intermediary students who have already encountered the Tao Te Ching in another translation, for passages that seem abstruse or impenetrable in other formulations spring to life in Dr. Malhotra’s capable hands. Finally, the text will also appeal to advanced students and professional scholars: even those who believe they have grasped the “deep, underlying meaning” of the Tao Te Ching will be forced to re-examine the linguistic and metaphysical foundations of their interpretations. The central lessons of the Tao Te Ching concerns the human tendency to classify everything we encounter as “this” rather than “that”. The Tao, it teaches, is beyond this type of dichotomous pigeonholing. The restrictions of either-or and us-them logic limit, not the Tao, but rather the hearts and minds of those who are confused and unenlightened. To embrace the Tao and live a richer, more authentic and more satisfying life, we must be willing to leave behind (or at least set aside) a series of assumptions about ourselves as well as the world(s) in which we live.