This year has been a wacky one, to say the least. In the midst of turmoil, I’ve tried to provide myself with a “spiritual roll-cage” to stay alive and reasonably well. A big piece of that has been reading books to nourish the soul. I bought my particular copy of the Tao Te Ching in high school, read it once, and sort of forgot about it. If any year could use some ancient wisdom, it was this one. So, I pulled it off the book shelf, grabbed a pen for marginalia, and went to work over the course of several weeks.
As a Westerner, it can be kind of intimidating to jump in on another culture’s ancient text and try to make sense of it. If you’re nervous about “getting it”, this edition features an introduction and notes from comparative religion scholar Jacob Needleman. He can help get you primed for your reading by explaining (or approximating) the concepts of tao and te, as well as providing some historical context. In the end, Needleman provides a kind of scholar’s commentary on select chapters. The commentary includes comparisons to verses or stories in other world religions and texts, historical translations, and other helpful morsels.
With all that being said, of course it’s up to you the reader to sit with Lao Tsu eighty-one chapters. As with other impactful works, spiritual or otherwise (and what isn’t spiritual), I recommend giving yourself some time with words. Space out your readings. Walk and think. Let things sink in.
“Surrender yourself humbly; then you can be trusted to care for all things.
Love the world as your own self; then you can truly care of all things.”