I've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook cameI've always found Huston Smith insightful, lucid, and fun to read, and so I chose this as one of my course textbooks (when the previous textbook came out in a new edition---for $110!). In spite of its lack of much primary source material (which Philip Novak's collection of scriptures supplements), this is an excellent introduction to the major religions of the world, "our wisdom traditions." Smith's concise chapters describe the big religions--Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity--as well as discussing the role of religion in the 21st century and providing tips on how to approach religions and religious diversity. The illustrations are the weakest part of the book. Some are excellent, others (like the image of Mahavira in the chapter on Buddhism) are out of place, and the heavy reliance on the paintings of Marc Chagall didn't make much sense when the religions of the world afford so much imagery. ...more
I am finally reading it after conversations about Chinese philosophy and religion with several Chinese undergraduates on a field trip to Chicago. I puI 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 his ideas in condensed, poetic form, as per Laozi, Zhuangzi conveyed his understanding of the Dao in oftentimes funny narratives, many of which Merton here renders into long-form poetry. His conception of the inconceivable Dao differs significantly from Laozi's in many ways, most obvious of which is the earthy humor which infuses his parables.
This is not a new translation, unlike several other editions on my shelf (many of which have been sitting unread for nearly as long as this one). Rather it is a selection and re-rendering of existing English translations on the part of Catholic priest and monk, poet and painter, writer and intellectual Thomas Merton, who also provided a most insightful short study of Zhuangzhi as a preface.
On the Confucian virtue of "propriety" or Li:
Li is something more than exterior and ritual correctness: it is the ability to make use of ritual forms to give full outward expression to the love and obligation by which one is bound to others. Li is the acting out of veneration and love, not only for parents, for one's sovereign, for one's people, but also for "Heaven-and-earth." It is a liturgical contemplation of the religious and metaphysical structure of the person, the family, society, and the cosmos itself....One learns by Li to take one's place gratefully in the cosmos and in history. (pp.18-9)
A contemplative and interior life which would simply make the subject more aware of himself and permit him to become obsessed with his own interior progress would, for Chuang Tzu, be no less an illusion than the active life of the "benevolent" man who would try to hide his own efforts to impose his idea of the good on those who might oppose this ideaand thus in his eyes, become "enemies of the good." The true tranquility sought by the "man of Tao" is Ying ning, tranquility in the action of non-action, in other words, a tranquility which transcends the division between activity and contemplation by entering into union with the nameless and invisible Tao. (p. 26)
The abstract theory of "universal love" preached by Mo Ti was shrewdly seen by Chuang Tzu to be false precisely because of the inhumanity of its consequences. In theory, Mo ti held that all men should be loved with an equal love, that the individual should find his own greatest good in loving the common good of all, that universal love was rewarded by the tranquility, peace, and good order of all, and the happiness of the individual. But this "universal love" will be found upon examination (like most other utopian projects) to make such severe demands upon human nature that it cannot be realized, and indeed, even if it could be realized it would in fact cramp and distort man, eventually ruining both him and his society. Not because love is not good and natural to man, but because a system constructed on a theoretical and abstract principles of love ignores certain fundamental and mysterious realities, of which we cannot be fully conscious, and the price we pay for this inattention is that our "love" in fact becomes hate. (pp. 28-9)
That Chuang Tzu should be able to take one side of a question in one place, and the other side in another context, warns us that in reality he is beyond mere partisan dispute. Though he is a social critic, his criticism is never bitter or harsh. Irony and parable are his chief instruments, and the whole climate of his work is one of the tolerant impartiality which avoids preaching and recognizes the uselessness of dogmatizing about obscure ideas that even the philosophers were not prepared to understand. Thought he did not follow other men in their follies, he did not judge them severelyhe knew that he had follies of his own, and had the good sense to accept the fact and enjoy it. (pp. 29-30)
For security against robbers who snatch purses, rifle luggage, and crack safes,
One must fasten all property with ropes, lock it up with locks, bolt it with bolts.
This (for property owners) is elementary good sense.
But when a strong thief comes along he picks up the whole lot,
Puts it on his back, and goes on his way with only one fear:
That ropes, locks, and bolts may give way.
Thus what the world calls good business is only a way
To gather up the loot, pack it, make it secure
In one convenient load for the more enterprising thieves.
Who is there, among those called smart,
Who does not spend his time amassing loot
For a bigger robber than himself? (p. 67)
In the age when life on earth was full, no one paid any special attention to worthy men, not did they single out the man of ability. Rulers were simply the highest branches on the tree, and the people were like deer in the woods. They were honest and righteous without realizing that they were "doing their duty." They loved each other and did not know that this was "love of neighbor." they deceived no one yet they did not know that they were "men to be trusted." They were reliable and did not know that this was "good faith." They lived freely together giving and taking, and did not know that they were generous. For this reason their deeds have not been narrated. They made no history. (p. 76)
When an archer is shooting for nothing He has all his skill. If he shoots for a brass buckle He is already nervous. If he shoots for a prize of gold He goes blind Or he sees two targets‒ He is out of his mind!
His skill has not changed. But the prize Divides him. He cares. He thinks more of winning Than of shooting‒ And the need to win Drains him of power. (p.107)
If you can empty your own boat Crossing the river of the world, No one will oppose you, No one will seek to harm you. (p. 114)
"Where self-interest is the bond, The friendship is dissolved When calamity comes. Where Tao is the bond, Friendship is made perfect By calamity." (p. 116)
The purpose of words is to convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to. (p. 154)
A fascinating insight on Chinese religion and mythology from the authors, that "the main feature of the backdrop to Chinese mythologies [is] the factA fascinating insight on Chinese religion and mythology from the authors, that "the main feature of the backdrop to Chinese mythologies [is] the fact that all traditions overlap and are used by the people of China as and when it is convenient to do so" (p. 21), is paralleled in one of the many myths about Monkey:
"Now we have defeated these evils beasts you must see there is a Way in the Buddhist teachings also. From now on do not take one religion only, but honour both the Buddhist clergy and the Taoist Way, as well as educating intelligent men following the Confucian fashion. This will make the kingdom secure from evil forever." (p. 187)
This is an engaging and delightful book that uses the non-threatening medium of sequential narrative to present Zhuangzi's philosophy of the Dao. An eThis is an engaging and delightful book that uses the non-threatening medium of sequential narrative to present Zhuangzi's philosophy of the Dao. An excellent place to start for the non-specialist who wants to get a feel for Daoist philosophy, even better than Benjamin Hoff's much lauded Tao of Pooh
Zhuangzhi is free in the negative sense of being free from the constraints of a single perspective, the kind that enables the Mohist to understand only through Mohist categories and the Confucian through Confucian categories. He is free in the positive sense in that his mind can roam over most or all perspectives. This is one of the things that makes it possible for him to respond like a mirror to an objective situation in a way that completely reflects the objective situation rather than his own prejudices.
—from the Afterword by Prof. Donald J. Munro, p. 140
[Zhuangzi's naturalism] does require us to remember that our languages are part of nature. We cannot use language to leverage ourselves out of the wor
[Zhuangzi's naturalism] does require us to remember that our languages are part of nature. We cannot use language to leverage ourselves out of the world in order to talk about it in absolute terms. Language cannot make us transcend or overcome our status as limited creatures. —from the Introduction, p.19)