“To know what a person read during his life is to know an intimate detail about him; it is to know what he had on his mind.” – Susan Montag
Twenty-five years after the death of her Uncle Russ, Susan Montag found two translations of the Tao Te Ching among his books. She had always felt her uncle to be a gentle, caring soul and viewed these translations as a testament to who he was as a person. After learning more about Taoism and becoming excited that her uncle owned the these books, she decided to purchase translations of the Tao Te Ching and give them to family members. However, these translations didn’t move her family as she expected.
It was then that she realized the value of creating a modern, “native tongue” translation of the Tao Te Ching. While her original intention was to give copies to her family members, it occurred to Montag that others could value her work as well—especially after her labor of love received such an enthusiastic reception among her kin.
Finding the Way: A Tao for Down-To-Earth People is a work crafted in the spirit of the Tao Te Ching. The author has incorporated metaphors that are useful in the context of the modern world. The Tao Te Ching is to Taoism what the Bible is to Christianity. Originally written by Lao Tzu (and perhaps others) around 500 BCE, this sacred book centers on the Tao (the way of the universe), showing how it manifests in the world and how we can bring ourselves into harmony with it. The Tao Te Ching is a collection of sayings, poems, and proverbs that are divided into 81 verses that deal with Tao and the nature of life.
One of my favorite passages from Montag’s translation is Verse Eleven:
When you buy a vase,
you are paying for the pretty glass
but also for the empty space inside.
If that space were filled with glass,
you could not put a flower into it.
The empty space of a door
is the useful part of the door,
and the empty space of the window
is the valuable part of the window.
People are able to use what is there
only because of what is not there.
It is often said of the Tao “the way that you can say is not the way”. As such, it can be difficult to capture the essence of this mysterious way of life and state of being. However, Finding the Way: A Tao for Down-to-Earth People does a remarkable job of delivering the poetic, elusive, and beautiful nature of the Tao Te Ching. Whether you’re seeking lovely poetry, sacred notions, spiritual grounding or sacred mindfulness, Susan Montag’s homage to her late uncle provides all these things and much more.
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