I have many copies of the Tao Te Ching in my library. I found joy in reading different translations because I found new insights each time and learned about the different translators. One copy could provide lessons no other could, and together they were more powerful.
Regretfully, I had not read any of my copies in a while. When I remediated this, I found something interesting happening after reading two or three translations – I felt the words in the book as much as I read them. This feeling helped me gain insights and even led to some well-needed behavior and personal changes to deal with certain challenges.
(Specifically, this happened while reading the Red Pine translation, an excellent one, but one to read after you’ve gone through some easier translations)
In my younger years, I would read philosophical and meditative writings and then be frustrated at how hard it was to “change myself.” With study and time, I found that personal growth or exploring mental and mystical spaces took work. Mental and mystical journeys are oft one foot in front of another, and trying to jump ahead risks frustration or delusion.
Words inspire, guide, and inform but they are not a destination. Now I saw they were also their own form of meditation.
I realized my reading of the Tao Te Ching had been a kind of exercise or meditation. Anyone familiar with the book knows the small chapters, well-translated, can be very evocative. I had soaked these in by reading and rereading nearly two dozen different copies, and now reading them brought forth lessons old and new. The words had become part of me.
Reading words and trying to bash our thoughts into place to follow them is too easy to do and usually fails. These experiences are a reminder that reading and rereading (or hearing and rehearing) wise words and transformative thoughts is a meditation. We have to give words time to work their way into our minds, to be analyzed, felt, and understood.
I’m sure we’ve all heard stories of sages, holy men, hermits, and mystics who would read and reread a certain book. Now I understand their efforts much more.