Monday, July 28, 2008


Two ancient texts that I have enjoyed for a long time are the I Ching and the Tao Te Ching. Both are beautiful, powerful and concise sources of wisdom for living.

Next time you are in a bookstore, you might find it interesting to compare the translations available in these works. They can differ quite radically not only in phrasing but in context. Ultimately which one you choose to be your reading copy will be based on your tastes. Wayne Dyer recently wrote a book based on his experience doing precisely this, and the value he extracted from different versions of the Tao Te Ching.

I have spent hours comparing texts and found it fascinating. Sometimes I might find a passage where one author's interpretation was phenomenal, but other passages in the book left me cold. It was an expansive experience just to consider the various points of view.

Rumi's poetry was well known before Coleman Barks put his deft touch to the verses, but afterward, the popularity of Rumi's poetry outstripped all other poets. The difference in the translation or interpretation makes ideas come alive, or in the words of Amergin, Ireland's first poet, "puts fire in the head."

The Bible is another book that can vary from version to version, and it can make all the difference to a reader trying to understand it. A great book about this is Kenneth Davis' Don't Know Much About the Bible. Quite contrary to the title, he knows quite a bit about it.

Great books seem to draw people back to them time and again, and people who are experts in language cannot resist trying to make new translations of them.

This is also a lesson about how powerful words are. The things we say and write can be taken different ways. Sometimes we wish we had said something differently and sometimes it is good to be silent. And sometimes we need to speak. And sometimes we need to write.

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