Interview on NPR with Geoffrey Riley of The Jefferson Exchange (October 9, 2018).
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A CONVERSATION WITH FRANCIS PRING-MILL ABOUT HIS BOOK IN HARMONY WITH THE TAO
Q: Why does the world need this book?
FPM: The Tao Te Ching is probably the most influential Chinese book of all time. However, in many places its text is cryptic and mysterious. Some passages provide insights which reward the reader with awesome Aha! moments. But other passages are paradoxical and enigmatic and tend to leave the reader confused. This book takes the reader on a guided journey that hopefully increases the insights and reduces the confusion.
Q: Why do you call this book a "guided journey"?
FPM: The way I see it, the journey goes from reading the words, to understanding the ideas, to embracing and applying them consciously in how we live our daily lives. However, it’s not obvious how to do this. I see it as a puzzle that the reader and I sort out together. I cannot tell anyone what the text means to them, and I certainly cannot tell anyone how to lead their lives. The purpose of the guided journey is to travel in a way that we can better see the insights for ourselves, and then think about what they might mean to each of us personally. The next step, of course, is to decide what we will do with the insights. And that's very much up to each one of us.
Q: Why did you write this book?
FPM: I’ve been fascinated by the Tao Te Ching since being a teenager. The first time I read it, I felt as if someone had pulled me aside and whispered in my ear: “Psst. In case you’ve been wondering what life is all about, this is what’s going on.” The book resonated deeply within me, yet – as we have mentioned – the text is dense, cryptic, and even contradictory in places. How could something like that resonate so deeply? I wanted to discover the answer - and this book is the result.
Q: What type of person would enjoy this book?
FPM: There are three types of people I hope might enjoy this book. First, anyone already familiar with the Tao Te Ching who is interested in a fresh, modern perspective. Second, I hope it will appeal to anyone who has already tried reading an existing version but found it too concise, densely written, or otherwise unapproachable. Third, I hope it will appeal to anyone who has not yet discovered the Tao Te Ching and wants to read it with a source of guidance at hand.
Q: What will readers take away from reading this book?
FPM: In addition to hopefully experiencing more general insights, readers will also find themselves guided to ask questions leading to personal insights which they can take away and apply in their own lives. I cannot say what someone else’s personal insights might be, nor can I say what they might do with them. But the reader and I can go on a journey together in which we can each make these discoveries for ourselves.
Q: What difference has spending time with the Tao Te Ching made in your life?
FPM: One of the chapters refers to the Master having just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. I notice that when I keep these in mind I experience much more peace and harmony in my life. The challenge is to keep doing this every day because it is very easy to get distracted by our own thoughts and desires about just about anything.
Q: Why did you pick Stephen Mitchell’s version of the Tao Te Ching?
FPM: Over the years, I have read many versions. There are literally hundreds of them. Some are scholarly or academic, others philosophical or poetic. But I kept coming back to Stephen Mitchell’s version because his words just seemed to resonate best with me. I agree with religion scholar Huston Smith who said: “Mitchell’s rendition of the Tao Te Ching comes as close to being definitive for our time as any I can imagine. It embodies the virtues its translator credits to the Chinese original: a gemlike lucidity that is radiant with humor, grace, large-heartedness, and deep wisdom.” I feel this is very true.
I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Stephen Mitchell for his support and to HarperCollins for permission to reproduce all of his text. Stephen’s version is the foundation of my book. Without it, In Harmony with the Tao would not have been possible.