The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching: A New Translation and Commentary, by Rosemarie Anderson, Ph.D.
Inner Traditions, 1644112469, 160 pages, April 2021
Rosemarie Anderson, Ph.D., has many accomplishments – she is professor emerita of psychology at Sofia University, an Episcopal priest, an author of several books, and the recipient of the Abraham Maslow Heritage Award. She has traveled widely through Asia, and she has decades of experience with the Chinese language and the Tao Te Ching – all of which more than qualify her to author The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching.
However, the qualification that touched me the most was declared in the very first sentence written in the book, in the acknowledgments section: “Translating the Tao Te Ching has been a work of love.”1 The love that this author has for the Tao Te Ching, and for the language in which it was written, informs her entire translation.
Anderson begins with a few short pages explaining her personal story of moving to Asia as a young woman and how she very quickly learned, and fell in love with, the Chinese language. She explains her love for the elegance of the calligraphic form and the etymology of the characters, along with the reverence the Chinese people seemed to have for them.
In exploring and observing the Chinese way of life during her time in Asia she recognized that she was beginning to learn a concept the Chinese call “wei wu wei, which means to ‘act without acting’ or ‘know without knowing’.”2
This concept of wei wu wei, she explains, is essential to understanding the Tao Te Ching, requiring one to slow down, to read with patience, to allow the poems to enter one’s knowing almost of their own accord.
Anderson originally decided to translate the Tao for her own benefit and delight, using her basic knowledge of Chinese supplemented by scholarly books that would teach her any characters she did not recognize. She began this process expecting that she might discover something new in the Tao Te Ching along with some new discoveries about herself. The thing she did not expect was to discover that the Tao was profoundly feminine – full of self-descriptive words such as “mother”, “virgin”, and “womb of creation” – all intrinsically feminine ideas!
In fact, the descriptor of Anderson’s translation in the title as “divine feminine” is what drew me as a reader to this version. And it seems so obvious upon reading these ideas that the Tao would be referred to as “She” in most if not all places where pronouns are used, but historically that has not been the case. “Only in a rare poem do a few translators refer to the Tao as “She” when the reference to “mother” or “womb” is blatant.”3
Something I found profoundly interesting was that the author’s experience of the wei wu wei method of translation is that it was “rarely mental but typically took the form of bodily impressions.”4
This idea of allowing input (in this case the poems of the Tao Te Ching) to reverberate in the body instead of automatically depending on the mind to figure everything out seems to be something worth exploring in earnest.
The next idea to help us ingest the poems (and to enter into wei wu wei) is to read the poems aloud, or to sing them – even perhaps to a favorite tune, along with a suggestion to read one poem per day and to truly commit to listening and hearing what the Tao has to offer.
I particularly liked this specific instruction:
“Sing out loud and sing long. This is hermeneutics in action. The term hermeneutics comes from the Greek god Hermes, the great communicator who brought the gods’ messages down to humans. In singing the Tao Te Ching, communicating with the Heavens and back to planet Earth is precisely what you are doing. Do it. Improvise on the text as an ancient storyteller might. Begin your own legend – your own pathway to the Heavens and back again.”5
This instruction seems like the perfect way to begin or expand one’s exploration of the Tao Te Ching, especially The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching – unhurried, embodied, and without any specific expectation other than “communicating with the Heavens and back to planet Earth.” For me, as a beginner, this encouraged me to not overthink or overdo, but to just sing.
So far, one of my favorite poems in Anderson’s translation is poem 34, which I place here for your enjoyment:
The Tao flows everywhere!
She stretches to the left and to the right
All things rely on Her for life
She never turns away
She accomplishes Her work
And makes no claims
She is free of desires
We call Her small
All things return to Her
Yet she never controls
We call Her great
In not striving to be great
The wise accomplish great things
This selection seems to align well with the author’s instructions and contemplations of wei wu wei, and this particular passages encourage me in the idea of “accomplishing great things by not striving to be great”6 and to “grasp the Great Mirror”7 of the Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching.
The poems are presented in a beautiful, flowing form, the typography spacious. And the book wraps up nicely with Notes on the translation and calligraphy, as well as an annotated bibliography.
I recommend this little gem of a book to anyone wanting to study the Tao Te Ching – especially to consider it in the context of a gentle, non-striving practice.
Cindie Chavez, “The Love & Magic Coach”, is a certified life and relationship coach as well as an author, speaker, and teacher. She has a reputation for bringing astounding clarity and having a wicked sense of intuition. She has a widely diverse range of other proficiencies and interests including astrology, kabbalah, tarot, magic, and spirituality. She also loves painting, knitting, gaming, and enjoying belly laughs with her husband and family.