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15 July 2014

Confucius and Tao

I believe many people translate Confucius erroneously in the West. First because translators from the West tend, as we would expect, to look at the text with Western eyes. Secondly, and as a consequence of the first cause, translators tend to look for metaphysics where there should be none.

As a Taoist and someone in continuous study of Taoism, I have learnt that one thing that we should be aware of at all times is to use the word 'knowledge' as something particularly good, like it is believed to be in the West.

Accumulation in Taoism means loss. Nothing good can come from accumulation of knowledge, because it means to gain something; thus bringing upon you the fear of loss.

As we translators should know, Confucius was a Taoist and learnt a lot from the person he admired the most: Lao Tzu - the great master. However, Confucius knew his limits and also knew he would never accomplish as much as his master did.

The point is, when we face a sentence like the following 致知在格物 -- in the fourth paragraph of Confucius's The Great Learning/The Great Digest -- we should think more than twice before translating anything as 'knowledge'. I don't believe a Taoist like Confucius would see knowledge, as we know, as the way to find sincerity in words. But rather, I would translate the sentence either as 'piercing through/penetrate' the nature of things, since the pictorial meaning of the ideogram  is to speak like an arrow. I found a very interesting translation for this sentence in an yahoo forum, as "explore and reckon everything the way it really is" by Metatron

I am currently reading The Great Digest, which is Ezra Pound's translation of Confucius' text. He did not only use the word 'knowledge' again, but also made some other bad choices like, for example, in his: 'sorting things into organic categories'. I don't really know what Pound meant by that and I wonder if he knew it at all. I find strange that someone like Pound, who looked for the true and essential meaning in words, would leave the translation like that without reconsidering it.

Again, I do not think Confucius would say 'to classify things into organic categories', but rather to pierce through the illusions and consider things the way they really are, i.e. their nature. That is the Taoist way of following Tao, by natural wisdom, and not by accumulating knowledge. The latter way, through accumulation, takes us to nihilism, where we basically categorize things like nothingness as bad; the former way, through wisdom, take us to sincerity of heart and openness to seeing things as they are, and to understand nothingness as it is.



Karinna A. Gulias