IT WAS THE LATE Professor C. N. Tay who suggested that I try my hand at a translation of the Dao De Jing. Professor Tay was a friend, a colleague, and a mentor, and I was enthusiastic at the prospect of working with him on this project. Suddenly, on Easter Sunday 1994, Professor Tay passed away. Work on the project had hardly begun; my hopes for a sustained collaboration vanished. I resolved to continue with the translation, in part as a mark of my respect for his memory.
Other unexpected and keenly felt personal losses soon followed. Professor Eric Holtzman died that same month, and then in January of the following year Professor Bernard Fields, a friend since high school, passed away. Another close friend, Leo Cawley, a Vietnam veteran, had died of bone cancer at the age of forty-seven in 1991.
Three variants of the Dao De Jing have been found buried in tombs: the Guodian text in a Warring States tomb dated to about 300 b.c., and in a Han tomb at Mawangdui, two texts that date to about 200 b.c. The version published by Fu Yi, a scholar of the Tang period, is also based on a Han tomb text. It is likely that more Dao De Jing manuscripts will be excavated. At whose behest was the Dao De Jing buried, and with what thought in mind? Was it intended as a comfort to the dead? A spiritual companion among the more practical and ornamental grave goods usually found? Was it seen as a work devoted to the fecund earth mother, which creates all living things and receives them again? Or was the text entombed as a consolation for the living, its meditations on mortality and time and on