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

Trains

hornsbyplatform5_03[1].jpgFrom Heat to Hiding, Hibernation to Hallucination.
Waking up under the school library and Walking home under lightning.
Through my strange world, I find myself here.
Where is this? This is here.
A bridge lies to the left and a tunnel ends at my right.
Where is here? My house if I can believe my fingers
Before me are a million windows, behind me is a great sea of stairs
But… this is more of a train station.

Look left, Déjà vu. Look right, Jamais vu.

To the left is a person I have never met, yet feel like I have known forever.
He is only a memory, but so strong that I can see him standing beside me.
In fact, so strong that I see night where there should be day,
His fingers gently linked with another, eyes rising to make contact-
A flash of light. He is me.

To the right, at the end of a long, wide tunnel, stands a person I thought I knew.
By hair that shines brilliantly against God’s colourblind masterpiece, I recognise her,
but distance murders her into a mere image that is foreign to my experience.
Her face fades faster and faster behind the light growing ever brighter as she turns-
A shadow so bright. Who is she?

Look left, Déjà vu. Look right, Jamais vu.
Look forward, to the trains
The trains leave the station, no pattern, but with a growing sense of order
An increasingly ominous feeling, that makes me want to look behind.
The more this feeling strengthens, the greater the urgency to turn behind
The trains are leaving faster
I shiver.
To turn behind you must first turn to the side.
The trains are disappearing in greater numbers
To turn behind, you mean to make a choice.
Right or left, Tick tock
The tracks are growing invisible –
Left or right, Tick tock
– Beneath the blue streaks of lightning that the trains have become.
I shake.
The trains are running out.
Turn behind.
Light is running out.
Turn behind.
Time is running out.
Turn behind!
As the clocks prepare to strike, as the judge’s hammer drops, as the last train leaves in a flash of brightness to paint the sky white, as the sun begins to fall towards the horizon, as the shape of a mushroom cloud forms at the end of the tracks; With the whole world falling on its knees –

I turn.
And find myself here.

Alex Herlihy – November 2009

O What a Wonderful Woman

11188301_992465680764810_852338263089643008_n.jpgMy heart is on fire,
for the first time in years.
But no rollercoasters
Nor butterflies this time

Just a warm armchair
Pulled up by a fire
Where we can sit, cuddle
and stare into the flames.

I am so happy and content with you;
The most beautiful girl
To ever have caught my attention.
Peaceful, Gentle, Quiet, Lovely.

Your virtues fly past the moon
Your loveliness singing between the stars
I am deeply attracted to you
So joyous that you have fallen into my life

I’m not worried this time around.
Not scared that you will abandon me
Not terrified that you will abuse me
Not horrified that you will betray me.

And I know that you are afraid,
So rest in my confidence
I have enough for us both
It will carry us onwards in hope.

I adore you and I trust you,
and I pray that you’ll trust me
As together we catch the little foxes
Frolicking in the vineyard of our love

Be my salvation and I’ll be yours
As we reflect Christ and church
The marriage of good and evil
An epektasis of light and dark.

Let us hold hands and ascend to the eschaton
Our souls dancing and spirits mingling
Rising, rushing through the empyrean
with kisses and smiles, hugs and cuddles.

May God bless us with consonance and grace
Showering us with blessings.
May he lead us to the divine joy,
and a laughter that never ends

Alex Roberts – 2019

“Why Don’t You Have Facebook?”

Business-Does-Not-Need-Facebook-Page[1]Would you like to know the real reason why
I don’t have a smart phone,
I don’t use facebook,
I rarely send emails,
I avoid internet communication almost entirely?

It’s because everyone is talking to everyone else at once.
And no-one knows who anyone else is talking to.
And no-one knows what anyone else is talking about.

I can be having different, separate, deep, meaningful conversations with many people on many topics at the same time.
There is no commitment online: It is possible to jump from one chat to the next so easily.

If there is a pause in your typing… are you talking to someone else?
I have to tell myself “You’re just thinking” or “You’re just feeling overwhelmed”
But I have no way of knowing this to be true!
I can’t see your body language
I can’t read your facial expressions
I can’t connect with the soul reflected in your eyes.
This makes it harder for me to trust.
A digital wall between us
This plants seeds of suspicion and jealousy.
Thorns that grow up and choke my heart

But real life communication is not like this.
In the real world, when there is a pause in the conversation I can easily tell whether the other person is thinking carefully or if they are distracted by something else.
In the real world, if the person I’m talking to walks away to talk to someone else, I know, and I can walk away and talk to someone else too.
In the real world, it isn’t possible to become emotionally invested in a conversation which has already evaporated.

So now I go back and look over the whole Discussion.
Suddenly it looks very different.
Those moments where you weren’t saying anything begin to seem incredibly ambiguous:
What were you really doing while I poured my heart out into that chatbox?
Were you thinking about how to respond?
Were you struck down by emotion?
Or were you just talking to someone else,
and reading a random internet article…

I’m not saying give up technology for my sake.
The fact that I feel jealous and suspicious is not your fault.
My emotional responses are my own problem to deal with.
But I refuse to suck it up, desensitize, stop caring or push my feelings down.
So how do I deal with them?

Life is better offline

Alex Herlihy – 2014

The Riddle of the Universe

space-960x460[1].jpgI sublimate all that I hear, smell and feel.
Savour that taste which I see is not real,
Believe that by this, it all comes together
As Identity for now and forever.
The choices I make, the best I can be,
Both to myself and society,
Life, the universe and all are the same,
For I have met God, and absurd is his name.

And now my head is spinning round;
I fly up only to come plummeting down.
For the final Zenith of Absurdity
Is only a proud ode to Insanity.
As I fall under the gaze of eternity
I look back, and there’s nothing to see
Where is the truth? The Light? The life?
I’m cornered by sin, surrounded by strife

To dive down into deepest despair
Nothing makes sense, I’m gasping for air
Pulled down by my pride

A bible story
A man in the desert, Tempted by Satan
What does it mean?

Faith

Alex Herlihy – 2014

I will miss you

I will miss you.
How annoying is it? How human is it? How honest is it? How wonderful? How sickenly, illogically sentimental…
You are leaving. And I will miss you
A sad song plays
I will miss you, Even though we rarely spoke, Even though sometimes I avoided your gaze, your questions, your conversation.
And for a time we were at odds with each other
Jealousy, Contempt, Lust, Judgement
All corrupting my heart and mind, destroying the relationship we should have had.
And yet I will miss you regardless,
Our honesty has blossomed in these last days
Strange how when the end is in sight the barriers come down
I wanted to love you when I first met you, but I was lost and confused in my self-centeredness
I wanted to hate you when I couldn’t find my way into your heart
The eve of a new year. I fell a little bit in love with you that night.
The realisation that soon you will just be a memory was sobering.
Why do I feel such a sense of loss? such an emptyness?
Why did we have to connect right when we are tearing away from each other?
Our emotions might actually be more rational then they seem,
But I am still confused by the fact that…
You have left
and I miss you.

Alex Herlihy – 2014

12173_10153834955405375_141281355_n.jpg

Sailing

3275322890_54d4aae6b2_b[1].jpgI find it hard to ignore, out at sea
The amazing line at infinity
Dancing there, water dance, fields of blue, blue fields, symphony.
endless in all directions
always a line, flat, distinct, but attempts at focusing, always undefined, foggy, as the swell, rises and falls, man high swell, meter high swell.
Back to earth, the spray, sunburn, Australian cliffs and beaches and land. company mood shift. peaceful

The words I spoke in no way resembled the vivid, intense images floating through my mind, but I must have told a good story regardless; the two boys sat mesmerised before me, waiting with eager anticipation for the next chapter to arrive.

I have seen geometrical infinity
and I’m not merely espousing poetry.
I have stood and store out at that long colourless line,
where the sky meets the sea.
I’m still not being poetic.
For that is the definition of infinity
The long long long line,
where the sky meets the sea

Alex Herlihy – 2011

Dark Nostalgia

dark-dream-christiano-torres[1].jpg

Did you dream about me?
That’s all I am to most people now.
No address. No phone. No facebook.
Dimly remembered.
I recognise people from long long ago everyday and when they see me
It is strange strained stares that I draw. Stares that say
“Who are you?”
“How do I know you?”
“Why do I recognise you?”

I am dark nostalgia
Someone who sat before you and shared your torture,
Someone who knows how to speak your language,
Someone who remembers where you live, the bus you caught, the school you attended
Yet you still can’t quite place that presence of the past in the present.

And yet my face draws dazed recollections into your eyes
Your gaze swiftly averted
Fluttered heart breaking
You don’t remember me
The only explanation
You never knew me
The final answer
Did you dream…
One last hope –
About me?

Alex Herlihy – 2011

Don’t look back

Don’t look back
She’ll turn to dust
Melt away, decompose,
Disappear into that void devoid of love
Fall down the absolute hell that you just overcame
Only to be with her again.
Only for a minute.
In a minute it will all happen anyway
A dead lover dies again today
A minute is all you have to pay
And once again she’ll be taken away
Should you believe what the God had to say?
I want to turn around, reflect on a face
Kiss, hold, hug and embrace
But impossible this seems to be
The curse has grown worse, the burden is on me
Don’t look back.
Look forward
To what? The trains? No.
Or maybe. I never said what was meant to be read when sitting on those trains
Look forward to the future.
No
Just look to it.

Alex Herlihy – 2010

Loyalty

2016-01-04-1451947020-1057181-Betrayal4edde75f206fe-thumb[1].jpgI will fight for you
Because you are my friend
If anyone tries to hurt you
I’ll be there to defend

It sickens me to see how sad you are
Come into my world, be brave, don’t fret.
They defame you while we watch from afar
But I’ll stand up for you, never forget.

Why did I bother?

I will not fight you
I value you more than that

Why do you fight me
I thought you were a friend
After all my trust and loyalty
Is this how it’s going to end?

It sickens me to hear how happy you are
You show no signs of guilt or regret
and defame me while I watch from afar
So am I a friend, or did you forget?

Or maybe you never cared anyway

get out of my life
get out of my life
get out of my life
get out of my head
I want you dead.

Alex Herlihy – 2010