I'm doing a translation of the Dao De Jing, using some originals and some translations to english and portuguese. I've noticed that 常 chang is almost always translated as "eternal", "fixed", "immutable", etc. That seems to be a monotheistic preconception, far from the natural view of the world that seems prevailing in the book. So I'm using "common" or "usual" - another translation of the term, and one that seems to fit better in the overall meaning of the text. After all, not everything "common" is "unchangeable". Has anyone else thought about it? Which translation do you think is more adequate to the spirit of the original? Another question is: each chinese character should receive only one translation throughout the book? (Maybe that's a silly idea, maybe not.) Thanks in advance!
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This article suggests that the original text was 道可道，非恒道. That is, 恒 not 常 (meaning 永恒 = eternal, unchanging).
This dictionary definition for 常 also includes the meaning "长久，经久不变" (and gives the example 常量, with an alternate form 恒量).
For the translation of “常” , I think using “ common” or “usual” if fine, like the first sentence “ 道可道，非常道”.
And I don’t think that “each chinese character should receive only one translation throughout the book”, but for the special concepts that Laozi pointed out, I think they just have one translation throughout the book.
I don't mean to stray from the text itself, but I think it helps to consider what Daoism is all about (a contentious topic, of course). The meaning in those opening lines, to me, reflects a larger theme in Daoism about how things are constantly changing, or impermanent, so while the word 'eternal' might have a bit too much monotheism / eternal god / etc. contained within it, I don't think that a word to the converse, like impermanent, is necessarily inappropriate. In other words, if you're not trying to do a word-by-word translation, combining 非 and 常／恒 gives you many more options in English.
These stories I think are thematically-appropriate illustrations of Daoism and impermanence.