Skip to Main Content

In this book, Rosemarie Anderson shares her discoveries of the Divine Feminine Tao alongside her original translation of the Tao Te Ching. Working from ancient silk and bamboo slip manuscripts, the oldest known copies of the Tao Te Ching, the author slowly translated all 81 chapters over the course of two years, allowing each section to reveal its intimate poetic and spiritual nature. To her surprise, she discovered that the Tao was unmistakably feminine, consistently referred to as “mother,” “virgin,” and the “womb” of creation.

Anderson explains how the Tao is a feminine force, the Dark Womb of Creation, the Immortal Void renewing life again and again in ordinary times and in times of crisis. She offers commentary for each of the 81 chapters to help reveal their profound wisdom. The author also restores the chapters’ simplicity and musical undertones, explaining how, in the original Chinese manuscripts, the text is poetic and rhymed because the Tao Te Ching was often recited or sung--yet most English translations are written in scholarly prose with long sentences and complex syntax. She shows how the great Tao’s message of wei wu wei--“act without acting” and “do without doing”--offers a path of peace and well-being for ourselves and for our relationships with others and the earth, a path that arises from spontaneous action that seeks no gain for the self.

Capturing the original feminine nature of this ancient text, Anderson’s translation sheds new light on the esoteric wisdom contained within the Tao Te Ching and on the mystical feminine essence of the Tao.

From Introduction: My Journey to the Tao

In 1977 I was a thirty-year-old tenured professor, comfortably settled into my life--teaching psychology and supervising research at an elite private American university. Asia was “the Orient,” a faraway place overflowing with ancient traditions and largely untouched by Western TV and media. And yet, mysteriously, Asia called to me, speaking to me in ways nothing else did. I needed to get there. So I resigned from my university position and, almost overnight, dropped into another world, embarking on an adventure that continues to unfold today. As few signs were transliterated from Chinese characters into Roman letters, I had to learn to read basic Chinese quickly so I could find the women’s restroom, get on the right train and off at the right station, and buy more than just items I recognized like vegetables, eggs, and beer.

I kept reading, kept learning, and before long fell in love with the etymology of Chinese characters and the elegance of Chinese calligraphy. Everywhere I traveled in those years in Asia I sought out the national art museums and spent hours in the rooms dedicated to Chinese calligraphy. The beauty of the various forms of calligraphy touched me, and the reverence the Chinese gave to the characters inspired me. “Now here’s a culture that knows what matters,” I thought.

Living in Asia in my early thirties challenged almost everything I thought I knew about the world. I learned the hard lesson of accepting things as they were and not as I thought they were or as I wanted them to be. Looking back, I realize that I had begun to learn what the Chinese call wei wu wei, which means to “act without acting” or “know without knowing.” Not having a car and having to walk or take public transportation everywhere, I mingled with hundreds, if not thousands, of Asian people every day. I was so happy to be in Asia. I suspect that I was like a young child, imitating the people near me as infants do. In so doing, I embodied their wei wu wei effortlessly and certainly came back to the United States a “revised” human being.

Discovering the Divine Feminine Tao 40 Years Later

Since wei wu wei is an essential lesson of Lao-tzu’s Tao Te Ching, this on-the-ground learning gave me the experiential and embodied understanding I needed to translate the text into English decades later. In fact, wei wu wei was invaluable to me--first as a reader and then as a translator--because it allowed me to wait for a poem to reveal itself to me instead of chasing down meanings intellectually or multi-tasking. I had to slow down, turn off my agenda, and listen until a great silence entered my being.

Being with the Tao Te Ching, reading it with wei wu wei patience, I often found esoteric gems in the poems that had not made it into any English translations I had read over the years. These phrases would flash at me and speak to me intimately, spiritually. However, it was not until I retired that I wondered if I could translate the Chinese manuscript for myself. Afterall I could read basic Chinese and scholarly books were now available to help me with the Chinese characters that I did not recognize. Perhaps in translating the poems initially just for my own benefit and delight, I might discover something new in the Tao Te Ching or something new about myself.

To my surprise, I discovered that the Tao was profoundly feminine! Never could I have predicted that because, in the English translations I read, the Tao is commonly referred as “It” throughout the poems. How could so many translators, almost all men, not have noticed that the Tao is consistently referred to as “mother,” “virgin,” and “womb of creation,” all of which are clearly feminine and hardly gender neutral? Only in a rare poem do a few translators refer to the Tao as “She” when the reference to “mother” or “womb” is blatant. Therefore, as I continued to translate the poems, I kept asking myself, “Am I really the first to notice that the Tao is feminine throughout the poems?” Having recognized the Tao in this intensely feminine way, I could not possibly refer to the Tao as anything other than “She.” There was no going back. You will see what I mean in the next chapter. . . .

From Rosemarie Anderson’s translation of Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching

--1--

The Tao that can be told
Is not the everlasting Tao
The name that can be named
Is not the everlasting name

Nameless is the virgin of all things
Named is the mother of all things
Free of desire we see subtleties
Not free we see only things
The two are the same
Yet arise as two
A oneness called dark Dark beyond dark is
The door to all subtleties

--3--

Not exalting the worthy
Prevents people from fighting
Not cherishing precious objects
Keeps people from stealing
Not displaying possessions
Calms the minds of people
Thus in governing the way of the wise
Empties the mind
Fills the stomach
Softens ambition
Strengthens character
Keeps people innocent and content
And the cunning afraid to act
Act without acting
And nothing is out of place

--4--

The Tao is empty
Yet when used
Never exhausts
An abyss!
That seems the ancestor of all
She softens our edges
Loosens our entanglements
Tempers our light
Merges with ordinariness
So still!
She seems ever present
We do not know whose child this is
She seems to have existed
Before creation

--6--

The immortal void
Is called the dark womb, the dark womb’s gate
From her
Creation takes root
An unbroken gossamer
That imparts without effort

Rosemarie Anderson, Ph.D., is professor emerita of transpersonal psychology at Sofia University, an author, and an Episcopal priest. She cofounded the Transpersonal Research Network in 2014 and the Sacred Science Circle in 2017. Also in 2017 she received the Abraham Maslow Heritage Award from the Society of Humanistic Psychology of the American Psychological Association. She is the author of several books, including Celtic Oracles and Transforming Self and Others through Research. She lives in Williams, Oregon.

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (May 1, 2021)
  • Length: 160 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644112465

“Rosemarie Anderson’s translation of the Tao Te Ching is perhaps the truest reflection of this ancient text, which refers to the Tao not in an impersonal way but in a feminine way. Anderson’s contemplative approach also adds to technical accuracy--the lyricism, beauty, and mysticism of the original way the verses were performed. Her stunning achievement revitalizes this venerable wisdom and powerfully evokes its deeper meanings.”

– Jenny Wade, PH.D., author of Changes of Mind

“Centering on the Tao as ‘womb of the universe’ and Te as both ‘virtue’ and potentiality, Rosemarie Anderson gives us a delightful ease of engagement with the ancient Chinese wise sayings. Her embodied approach is heart-opening; the crisp, direct lines are invitational; and the artful spacing of the layout adds to the beauty. I feel at home in this translation. And more to the point, it’s exactly what we need now that things are falling apart. Peaceful means could further our survival.”

– Judy Grahn, PH.D., poet, activist, and author of Eruptions of Inanna

“Rosemarie Anderson’s unique translation of the Tao Te Ching allows us, for the first time, to experience the mystical feminine essence of the Tao--a combination of the power and tenderness, exhortation and patience of the Divine Mother--and invites us to walk the path of transformation for ourselves. Rosemarie translates like a poet--lingering, listening into the rhythm and texture of the words, allowing each phrase to speak its wisdom. And that’s exactly how you should read this book. In doing so, your relationship with the Tao will be forever enriched.”

– Linda Sparrowe, teacher and author of The Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health

“A lovely book. A good translation is a journey, and this translation is a journey worth taking. e Tao may be an ancient landscape, but the trails on which we’re invited to follow the translator are always new.”

– Red Pine, author and translator of Lao-Tzu’s Taoteching

“As a classic of world literature, the Tao Te Ching seems to unfurl its majestic layers of wisdom anew for each new generation. Professor Anderson has contributed incisively to its history by giving us a layer that speaks eloquently and urgently to our age: the feminine nature of the Tao. As if sitting in the depths of the poetry for centuries waiting to be awakened, the feminine can now speak of her paths and insights that radiate so finely through this new translation. It is rare indeed that a scholar excels in diverse fields; having blazed a creative and influential trail in transpersonal psychology over recent decades, Anderson has now aspired to the challenge of translation. All translation is also interpretation, and Anderson’s sensitive grasp of the wisdom in the Tao will benefit all who read this work.”

– Brian L. Lancaster, PH.D., author of Approaches to Consciousness

“While I have purchased a dozen or more translations of the Tao Te Ching over the years and have found its verses beautiful and practical, Rosemarie Anderson’s version deepened my appreciation for this classic book by drawing my attention to the lyrical, mystical, and feminine nature of the verses--perspectives never before described with such depth and authority. Anderson makes a persuasive case that the Tao is female in nature, and this realization illumines portions of the work that would otherwise be ignored. She also reminds us that the verses were often sung by ancient bards, a provocative practice that her readers can attempt themselves. When I am asked which translation I would recommend to novices, I will not hesitate to choose this one.”

– Stanley Krippner, PH.D., coauthor of Personal Mythology

“Rosemarie Anderson eloquently gives voice to the feminine soul of the Tao Te Ching. With a profound and in-depth understanding, she reveals the graceful connotations and helps us to experience the beauty and wisdom in the verses. Her commentaries bring new insight to an ancient text full of esoteric knowledge pertinent to the challenges of our modern world.”

– Lee L. Jampolsky, Ph.D., author of Healing the Addictive Personality

“Anderson, professor emerita of psychology at Sofia University, translates and delivers a fresh take on the Tao Te Ching, keeping an eye on the feminine characteristics of the text. Anderson argues this concept of wei wu wei (or ‘action that is non-action’) is inherently feminine, ‘portrayed as the mother, virgin, and womb of creation’ and driven by ‘tenderness and selflessness.’ Some of Anderson’s evidence is persuasive--such as the many metaphors of the womb and mentions of the Tao creating life--and justify her approach of using female pronouns to identify the Tao throughout....Anderson’s attention to detail and creative interpretations will open this ancient text to a new audience.”

– Publishers Weekly

"In her introduction, Rosemarie Anderson shares her journey that culminated with her sitting down and doing her own translation of the Tao Te Ching. She shares her genuine surprise at how overtly feminine the Tao was in her translation. After reading The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching I reached for my other two copies of the Tao, one from 2008 translated by James Legge and the other from 1993 that was translated by Man-Ho Kwok, Martin Palmer, and Jay Ramsay. And whoa yeah, there are many differences between the three texts. In the divine feminine defense of the other two, they both did translate some phrases in a more feminine way, but none to the extent of Anderson’s translation. However, it’s not just the overtly feminine translation that makes The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching my favorite. Anderson’s presentation of the text is more poetic and lyrical than the others I read. It flows better when being read, and I suspect sounds wonderful read aloud. It lends itself nicely to being read repeatedly, and the Tao Te Ching is a text that is meant to be repeatedly read and reflected on. All of this is to say, The Divine Feminine Tao Te Ching by Rosemarie Anderson will be my definitive translation of the Tao going forward."

– The Magical Buffet

"By Anderson’s own account, it’s clear that the translator did the requisite work of becoming fully immersed in Chinese culture, spending years abroad to understand its history in order to deeply embody the language. Her practice of contemplation was guided by the Tao’s essential lesson of “wei wu wei:” act without acting, know without knowing. By listening and feeling deeply, Anderson allowed the ancient text to reveal timeless lessons to unveil a feminist perspective for Western seekers of wisdom."

– Maileen Hamto, San Francisco Book Review