top of page

 A note to my reader


         道tào (dào)

(辶 road-and-foot + 首 head)

way, road, speak

       In graduate school, a professor of Chinese and Chinese philosophy told our small class that he wouldn’t even attempt to translate Lao Tzu’s 言yán words. He shook his head and announced solemnly, “They are a spider’s web.” My younger self was very much surprised, and I recounted this exchange to another professor who nodded to me, and said, “Well, if he’s not a spider, it’s best to stay out of the web.”

     Lao Tzu himself tell us, “My 言yán words are very easy to 知zhī understand.” So where is the spider’s web? It is true that, compared to our every-day readings, Lao Tzu’s words may seem strange at times, perhaps even cryptic. That is because most books today in the area of religion, philosophy, psychology, and life-guidance are instructive only in an informational way. They are concerned with adjusting our behavior and mindset to our social and cultural surrounds. Lao Tzu’s 教jiāo teachings are not informational. Nor are they concerned with our fitting in better with our social and cultural world. They are concerned with something else altogether.



    So I decided to start over, this time accepting him at his word when he says--“My 言yán words are very easy to 知zhī understand.” Why doubt him on this? That would be to presume that I, a university student, knew better than the same author from whom I sought to learn. That is not a serious way to inquire. So, I began again, and when his 言yán words seemed difficult rather than easy, I asked myself what I was overlooking or over complicating, or simply refusing to 見jiàn see.

     What I discovered is that Lao Tzu himself tells us how to approach his words. He is quite clear about this in a number of places, and I’ll point these out as we journey through the lessons.

     We academics have made great strides in understanding Lao Tzu’s words within their historical, linguistic and cultural contexts. These are important. But I think that too often we have 過guò passed by their very simple meaning. Lao Tzu, whoever he is, was not writing to us scholars. He was writing to every serious person who would listen.

   And, while our academic disciplines are helpful in so many ways, at the same time we may inadvertently be spinning our own spider’s web, leaving us in a precarious tangle of our own making.

    This site is not an effort to untangle our own webs. It is an encouragement to step away from them when needed. It is fine that we bring with us all the 知zhī knowledge that we have gained through our various studies and life-experiences. But we must also be ready, at times, to set these aside and head off in an entirely different direction when that is needed. As we will see, this is precisely what Lao Tzu encourages us to do.

​. . . . . .


Lao Tzu for Everyone

Students, Scholars,

& Seekers

​Chinese-English Interlinear

with Commentary

Peter Gilboy, Ph.D.


The Lessons of the Tao Te Ching are like poems. Perhaps that is a “spider’s web” for some, because 大dà great poems are not informational. Every great poem reaches beyond the words themselves to point us toward something else. They may evoke something in us which may lead toward a fresh and wholly new understanding, or something that has been long lost and just now remembered.

     For that reason, it may be better to--in a manner of speaking--聽tīng “listen” to Lao Tzu’s words rather than merely read them. This "listening" will take some heart on our part, and even some courage. And yes, we may meet some hurdles along the way. That’s okay. Maybe that is where our “spidey-sense” will come in handy.

     After studying Lao Tzu for some time, I took up the study of 古gǔ ancient Chinese language as a way of getting closer to the meaning of the text. The language is fascinating and was quite helpful, but still the meaning of his words seemed to elude me.


bottom of page