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The Way of Chuang Tzu

4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  2,033 ratings  ·  78 reviews

Working from existing translations, Thomas Merton composed a series of personal versions from his favorites among the classic sayings of Chuang Tzu, the most spiritual of the Chinese philosophers.

Chuang Tzu, who wrote in the fourth and third centuries B.C., is the chief authentic historical spokesman for Taoism and its founder Lao Tzu (a legendary character known largely
Paperback, 159 pages
Published January 17th 1969 by New Directions (first published January 1st 1965)
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Feb 03, 2013 Joseph rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who think outside of the box
This is one of the first books I read some time ago after first reading the Chuang Tzu. Read it because I needed to read other interpretations of the Chuang Tzu. Merton has a special appeal for me because I had read his great “Seven Story Mountain” and I am enamored of Trappist monks (maybe because I’m not sure I have the fortitude it would take to live those vows). Even given that Merton did not read Chinese, I still think that his is a unique perspective, perhaps because he more than anyone el ...more
Enjoyable, but when I first read it felt it wasn't up to 5 stars, and gave it a 3. However on recent re-read, I now rate it a full five stars. Not sure what has changed about me to make such a change in my perception of the writing, but on this read even the introduction stood out as exceptionally entertaining.

A couple of paragraphs stood out as worthy of citing:

[My:] 'readings' [of Chuang Tzu:] are not attempts at faithful reproduction but ventures in personal and spiritual interpretation. Inev
Bob Nichols
Among the classical Chinese philosophers (550-250 BCE), Chuang Tzu (d. 275) was the premier voice for Taoism. The Tao is regarded as mysterious, immune to description. Taoism's legendary founder, Lao Tzu (who may not have existed), states that "The name that can be named is not the constant name." In the same vein, Chuang Tzu writes that "Tao is a name that indicates without defining." Given this characterization or lack thereof, even a reference to "the Tao" is problematic as "the" qualifies Ta ...more
Glen Grunau
Chuang Tzu is considered the greatest of the Taoist writers (at least among those whose historical existence can be verified) that lived during the classic period of Chinese philosophy from 550 to 250 BC. This roughly parallels the timeline in Bible history from the time of the exile of Judah to Babylon and extending well into the "400 years of silence" between the OT and NT scriptures.

If one has an openness to accept the idea of religious pluralism, then the teachings of Chuang Tzu may be cons
a reference book on my shelf, which I return to again and again. Chuang Tzu illustrates the way with fables rather than epigrams. More approachable than Lao Tzu, thought some stories can be as enigmatic as truisms. Not a book to read through cover to cover in one sitting, but rather a book to leave around, and pick a page at random whenever guidance is needed.
Ted Child
I read the Tao Teh Ching a few years ago and become obsessed, reading various translations. I saved reading any Chuang Tzu till now. Generally Chuang Tzu is less ambiguous and more consistent than Lao Tzu. It is much easier to see the influence of Chuang Tzu rather then Lao Tzu on Zen Buddhism.
Here is some quotes I loved: “The rich make life intolerable, driving themselves in order to get more and more money which they cannot really use. In so doing they are alienated from themselves, and exh
Yaholo H
This book feels like a sequel to the Tao Te Ching. With quick-to-read small parables and koans of wisdom, often as a conversation between two people, The Way of Chuang Tzu can bring a dose of enlightenment to any extended restroom trip. Also like the Tao Te Ching, this book helps the mind unravel the knots of the mind and open up to the world around it. What does butchering a cow have to do finding joy? You'll have to read to find out.
James Klagge
Received this as a thank-you gift from a former student. I recently saw a piece about how the largest enrolled class at Harvard is now on Chinese philosophy. I was imagining using this as a text for a class. I don't see it. Of course there is the irony of all the institutional trappings of a class in connection with Zen. But it also couldn't help but feed the sense that philosophy is a silly game. Often the point of a story is that "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." But of course th ...more
Monk Thomas Merton reflects on the works of Chung Tzu, who lived in Asia nearly 2500 years ago. We are invited to release ourselves from servitude to riches, ambition, duty, and even virtue. The way begins with the simple good of being, in and through each moment. Happiness lies in doing nothing whatsoever calculated to obtain happiness, rather in bringing full presence to each situation, this making clear the path.
I have read two other translations of Chuang Tzu and this is without a doubt the best. Other translations seem to be word for word and lose out on the poetry of the stories. Chuang is the poetic fulfillment of Taoist philosophy.

When the meaning of words are grasped, the words are forgotten. Find me the man who knows no words, for he is the one I'd like to talk to.

I've always heard of the Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu, but until a foray into Br. Thomas Merton's works I had never heard of Chuang Tzu. It's a true shame that more people don't know about Lao Tzu, as I feel his work is much more close to what I would call Zen than Lao Tzu's, even though Lao Tzu's work is the definitive work on Tao. Chuang Tzu was a poet, and my Chinese friends call his work beautiful, and I have to agree, his stories about Tao mean more than Lao Tzu's sayings about Tao for me. The ...more
Brian Lutz
The content of this book is a series of parables, metaphors, and, in some cases, direct instruction on Wu Wei, a lifestyle based on inner reflection and thought. Thomas Merton's translation of the Chinese philosopher calms the nerves and evokes a meditative, relaxed mind state while reading.

At a sweet one-hundred-and-some pages, "The Way of Chuang Tzu" wastes no paper nor ink. The ideas are concise, intelligent, and enlightening for a college student looking for guidance.

I highly recommend at
Rodger Broome
This is a great book of wisdom. Short pages and snippets that are pregnant with paradigm shifting messages.
The dawn must look different to one living on a small lake from which he gets his dinner, idling about alone, without work, without a spouse, without a child and without a mortgage. How does the bread taste to one withdrawn from society, from politics, from family, indifferent to life, to death, to law, to friends, to duty, to good and evil?

Looking out his window he sees the swirling confusion of life, the tumbling hopes and stark anxieties of his neighbors, the whirling exasperation and sinking
Lawrence  Weber
The Way of Chuang Tzu, by Thomas Merton, is the product of five years of immersion, study, prayer, and reflection on the work of Zhuangzi, one of the towering figures in Chinese Taoism (Daojia) who lived sometime between the Fourth and Third Century BC.

According to Merton, the notes based on his meditative readings, "have acquired a shape of their own and have become, as it were, 'imitations' of Chuang Tzu." Merton goes on to describe these imitations as personal spiritual interpretations and s
I didn't know much about Taoism before I read this book. What little I did know came from books about Zen- often, when describing the origins of Zen, authors would say something like "Zen came out of the intersection of Buddhism with Chinese Taoism"- so I was interested to see what exactly that meant. I picked this slim volume because it was written by Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk. His "Seven Story Mountain" has been recommended to me a bunch of times, but so far I've been intimidated by its ...more
Oliver Ho
I read two other translations several years ago, and I'd been curious about this one for some time. Thomas Merton's introduction is excellent. He explains how he didn't translate the book so much as make an "imitation" based on four or five other translations, each of which was quite different. In that respect, this reminded me of Robert Lowell's book, "Imitations." Merton also gives an interesting overview of Chinese philosophy and its parallels to his particular interests, namely his mystic Ch ...more
Arda Aghazarian
This book showed up in my mail one day and I had no idea where it came from, until months later. I was not sure why the person who sent it to me decided that I should read it. Did I look lost? Did I seem as the type of person who needed guidance? Was this a way to maneuver me into religion? On the back-page I read: "Fishes are born into water. Man is born into Tao..." This looked way too simplistic for my taste. Would I have the patience for it?

And so the book stayed on my shelf for almost two y
Thom Foolery
Aug 08, 2012 Thom Foolery rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Thom by: Conversations with Tengjiao Chen and Zhi Chai
I am finally reading it after conversations about Chinese philosophy and religion with several Chinese undergraduates on a field trip to Chicago. I purchased it at the Richland Community College bookstore, sometime during the summer of 1992, before I had heard of either Thomas Merton or Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu).

As I later learned, Zhuangzi was the second great expositor of Daojiao or Daoist (Taoist) philosophy, following a few centuries after the legendary Laozi (Lao Tzu). Instead of propounding hi
Bernie Gourley
The Way of Chuang Tzu is Thomas Merton’s take on Chuang Tzu’s lessons of Taoism. One might ask why a person should learn about Taoism from a Trappist monk any more than one would learn the teachings of St. Francis of Assisi from a Zen monk. Maybe you should and maybe you shouldn’t, but I think Merton did a remarkable job in putting this book together and that there’s a lot to be learned from it. Some may find a fresh fusion in Merton’s approach to Chuang Tzu.

What I like most about this version o
Ali M.
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky (of all places), was buddies with the Dalai Lama. Yep, picture Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism hanging out side by side and learning from each other – acknowledging and sharing the wisdom that exists in each spiritual discipline. It's a beautiful thing, and not as rare as people think. As often as the world is torn apart by religious dissent, I think it's more important than ever to hold up these examples of harmon ...more
I am a great admirer of Thomas Merton. However, the content of his translation is too frequently wrong to make this translation a reliable representation of what Zhuang Zi (Chuang Tzu) meant.

There are many places in ancient Chinese where, e.g., one person might translate: "The sage always..." and another person might translate: "The Dao always..." That is because the original text did not have a subject. The reader has to supply that part. Usually there is no way to figure it out for sure; eithe
Raúl Sánchez
Versiones (más que traducciones) del libro de Chuang Tzu. Esto no me parece desmerito, Merton es un gran poeta al que admiro y si algunas partes son sospechosamente cristianas o modernas la traducción gana en eufonía y en hermosas descripciones paisajísticas, además de una segura comprensión mística de las paradojas del Tao. Esa comprensión de un occidental sólo podía provenir de alguien como Merton, un gran poeta y un monje trapense, profundamente influido por San Juan de la Cruz y por Santa Te ...more
Aug 28, 2014 Felonious rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All
After finishing and enjoying “Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings” I was still hungry for more Taoist writings. “The Way of Chuang Tzu” satisfied that hunger. It has many more “poems” and stories to help direct the reader towards the Tao. There was some overlap in stories between the two books but I feel that both should be read. Again I was all ready familiar with many of the stories but they are stories worth reading again and reading them from the original source. Some of my favorite stories are: Flig ...more
I really liked Merton's intro. Especially his explanation of wu wei, which I though he did a good job on. Although I've never actually read anything by him before I've read about him and he sounds like he was a pretty cool guy.

I've not read much of Chuang Tzu's writing before, so I can't really say much about this translation in comparison to others. Don't know how I feel about the fact that it's an interpretation of translations. It's definitely easy to see Zen in much of the readings though.
Merton's take on Tao is more accessible and more spiritual than Palmer's (the only other translation of the Chuang Tzu that I read), but it lacks the cross-discipline bite that I enjoyed so much in Palmer's version.

Or perhaps to put it another way, the spiritual aspect of Tao is revealed quite nicely by Merton, but the intellectual implications of the philosophy were exposed more explicitly by Palmer. Of course, it is said that Tao is neither spiritual nor intellectual, but poor Western soul has
Sep 15, 2008 Jake rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Roy Lynn James
Recommended to Jake by: The Lord Jesus Christ
I spent a couple of years reading and re-reading this book. I found some real truth in the deliberateness of Chuang Tzu - more so than with Lao Tzu. His writing (hopefully his articulateness is not too deeply a reflection of Merton's) contains elements of the ubiquitous human stench that is too often left out of prettier works. He didn't turn away from the human condition and smooth over the roughness of the journey. He sat squarely, naked, in wet mud and banged his drum with glee. I felt so str ...more
Greg Schmidt
I've been told since college - read Chuang Tzu and have never before taken the opportunity to do so, imagining it would just be further commentary on the Tao te Ching. Nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly a stand-alone work that despite being rather esoteric I found much more accessible and applicable than Lao Tzu. In addition to being a must read for any devotee of eastern thought, I consider it invaluable for any modern thinker, struggling to understand how to live well in world at ...more
Kevin Chen
Mirroring another review, I thought the book deserves a permanent place on your "go-to" bookshelf. Written in poems, Chuang Tzu delivers simple truths that foster a holistic, less claustrophobic perspective. In the end, you'll find yourself breathing fully and at peace.

Now, this is the only edition I've checked out. But comparing to other translators I've encountered in the past, Merton seemed to fade into the background with few footnotes. It felt as if the works flowed through him rather than
Thomas Merton's introduction "A Study of Chuang Tzu" is very good. If I reread it I may change my opinion about the rest, but not till then.
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Thomas Merton was one of the most influential Catholic authors of the 20th century. A Trappist monk of the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani, in the American state of Kentucky, Merton was an acclaimed Catholic spiritual writer, poet, author and social activist. Merton wrote over 60 books, scores of essays and reviews, and is the ongoing subject of many biographies. Merton was also a proponent of int ...more
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