Dao De Jing 道德經 Chapter One – A Translation from Classical Chinese to English by Bishop Roberts (OP, SJ)

Commentary

As is well known among scholars, the Greek word λογος is untranslatable into almost any other language. But curiously it can be translated into Chinese, as that all important word, dào 道. The philosophical similarities between Lao Tzu’sdào 道 and the λογος are far too numerous and significant to be ignored. This is why I took great pleasure in translating this first chapter of the 道德經 into Greek. Where most translations stumble on how to translate the crucial word dào 道, the Greek language conveniently supplies a term that is almost exactly equivalent in meaning. The really marvellous thing is that both the mythical Lao Tzu and the Greek philosopher Hereclitus both lived at roughly the same period of history (approx 5th century BC), but on opposite sides of the planet. Despite being totally isolated and cut off from each other, and speaking fundamentally different languages, they both managed to penetrate the mysteries of the cosmos and discover the same fundamental principle that permeates it.

This 道/λογος equivalence also comes to play in Chinese translations of the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Where most translations have to settle for translating λογος as some variation of “Holy/Living Word”, Chinese translations have the privilege of an almost directly equivalent word that they can employ: dào 道. Unfortunately many modern Chinese translations (Including the official Catholic one – the Studium Biblicum Version) have begun to jettison this beautiful translation, in favour of Chinese terminology which is not so loaded with traditional Taoist connotations (For example the SBG translates λογος as 聖言, literaly “Holy Word”). I cannot speak to the motivations of the translators, but to me such a move seems to be driven by a desire to separate and distinguish Christianity from other faiths, cultures and traditions. To me it comes across as anti-ecumenical, fundamentalist, and bigoted. Why insist on a watered down translation like that, when a perfectly good direct translation exists?

Please comment on my translation! I am trying to improve my Greek, Latin, and Classical Chinese skills and would appreciate any and all feedback. Thank you!

English Translation

The Tao that can be Told is not the Eternal Tao.
The name that can be named is not the Eternal name.

Without name: the origin of heaven and earth
With name: the mother of all things

Therefore

Never desire, in order to behold its ineffable essence;
Always desire, in order to behold its manifest aspects.

Both these things are the same – arche and teleos – but under different names.
Together, they are the mystery of qualia.
Indeed, the mystery of mysteries;
A doorway into infinite bliss.

Latin and Greek Translations

(of the first two sentences)

Divinitas quod potest describi divinitas aeterna non est.
Nomina possunt nominarier, sed nomen aeternum non potest.

´ο λογος τουτον μπορώ λεγεται, ´ο αιωνιος λογος μυ εστι.
´ο νομος τουτον μπορω νομεται, ´ο αιωνιος νομος  μυ εστι.

Original Classical Chinese Text

道可道非常道。
名可名非常名。
無名,天地之始﹔
有名,萬物之母。

常無,欲以觀其妙;
常有,欲以觀其徼。
此兩者,同出而異名,同謂之玄。
玄之又玄,眾妙之門。

Hanyu Pinyin Mandarin Romanisation

dào kě dào fēi cháng dào
míng kě míng fēi cháng míng
wú míng tiān dì zhī shǐ
yǒu míng wàn wù zhī mǔ

cháng wú yù yǐ guàn qí miào
cháng yǒu yù yǐ guàn qí jiǎo
cǐ liǎng zhě tóng chū ér yì míng tóng wèi zhī xuán
xuán zhī yòu xuán zhòng miào zhī mén

2 thoughts on “Dao De Jing 道德經 Chapter One – A Translation from Classical Chinese to English by Bishop Roberts (OP, SJ)

  1. Colonialist translation unfortunately. Dao and logos have very different philosophical contexts. Eternal Dao is just simply wrong

    • thanks for stopping by!

      Are you able to elaborate? My understanding is that despite the philosophical contexts being completely different, the concepts themselves are totally analogous. I don’t understand what you mean by your second sentence

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