Wednesday, October 12, 2005


The man who propagated Tao is also a person who wished to claim no credit. He is as elusive as the mists shrouding a distant mountain and as clear as the view across a beautiful sea. His wisdom flows in a rhythm that has captured the imagination of a thousand generations across the globe. Today, millennia after his passing, his words are as mysterious as they are cryptic but definitely not ignored. He is after Lao Zi.

IN China as in other lands of ancient and great civilisations, wise men
and sages are as rare as diamonds. In far Cathay, Land of the Middle
Kingdom as it was historically known, there once lived a rare being of
simple ways.
He was born Li Er in the State of Chu in 571 BC. In the 23rd year of the
reign of Emperor Zhou, Li Er, by then known as Lao Zi, saw the winds of
political turbulence approaching.
Lao Zi decided to leave the place for good. At the frontier, the Keeper
of the Pass recognised Lao Zi as the custodian of the imperial archives
and urged him to bequeath a legacy of knowledge. Lao obliged and put his
thoughts in one book, divided into two parts. The Dao (the Way) and the De
(Power of Goodness).
Lao Zi's sayings remain a mystery for ages. Intelligent men have
attempted to find the key to his cryptic remarks and missed the point
altogether. Wise men too must have tried and remained unclear as to their
origins and meaning.
In this second book on Lao Zi's sayings, the pictorial interpretation of
the sages lines of thought by way of cartoons has probed deeper into the
more profound lines.
Perhaps, Dao De Jing can best be explained, if it can be at all, by a
medium that touches more than the mind. The breeze that is Tao must caress
the soul to open the mind to the magic of enlightenment.
Lao Zi explains that the Tao that can be explained is not Tao. Neither
is that Tao which can be touched and conceived in mind and words. Such is
the mystery and elusiveness of Tao.
So it is somewhat of an unexpected delight to find Master Lao Zi's words
of wisdom being filtered to the nth degree of its purity through cartoons
in this latest edition by Asiapac which even a child can understand. Tao
should probably be like that. What a child in his innocence and simplicity
can grasp, an adult with all his worldly ways and acquired knowledge
cannot understand.
The first book on Lao Zi was published in 1989. The record sales must
have given the publisher a pleasant jolt.
Popular Taiwanese cartoonist Tsai Chih Chung's rendition was well
received by the reading populations of several nations. Recently, this
second book on Lao Zi graced the shelves of local bookshops. It will also
undoubtedly strike the same successful chord.
The little cartoon characters with their endearing physical features are
a joy for VDT-tired eyes. They set the mood and ease the mind for a clear
reception of Lao Zi's cosmic musings.
Koh Kok Kiang, a Singapore journalist, has done a good job of injecting
fun into the eternal Tao. Together with Tsai's drawings, Koh's translation
adds clarity to passages which were once obscure, and makes natural what
was once absurd.
In Book 1 on Lao Zi, it was revealed that the great Chinese educationist
Confucius paid a courtesy call on the Master of Tao. Greatly impressed by
Lao's thoughts, Confucius was to record that Lao Zi was like a dragon -
inscrutable and beyond the reach of ordinary mortals.
Book 2 dwells on Tao and its role on the many facets of life. The
essence of Lao Zi's teachings is in humility and simplicity - two sides of
a same coin.
Lao Zi Book 2 is the latest in a long list of titles by the same
publisher. Previous subjects were famous Chinese philosophers like Zhuang
Zi, Confucius and Mencius. There are also two books on Zen, a few on
literary classics and one on one of Chinas greatest military strategists,
Sun Tzus battle manual, The Art of War.
The popularity of the Asiapac series is seen in the numerous reprints
and the rapid appearance of the many new titles in recent years. Using
comics to convey an idea is certainly not new, but on Chinese philosophy
and other related subjects, it is definitely a refreshing change.
Lao Zi Book 2 can be read inside an hour, or be digested in a lifetime,
depending on what state of being the reader is in.

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