The Way of Chuang Tzu Quotes

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The Way of Chuang Tzu (Shambhala Library) The Way of Chuang Tzu by Zhuangzi
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“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“When the heart is right, "for" and "against" are forgotten.”
Zhuangzi, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“A frog in a well cannot discuss the ocean, because he is limited by the size of his well. A summer insect cannot discuss ice, because it knows only its own season. A narrow-minded scholar cannot discuss the Tao, because he is constrained by his teachings. Now you have come out of your banks and seen the Great Ocean. You now know your own inferiority, so it is now possible to discuss great principles with you.
井蛙不可以語於海者,拘於虛也;夏蟲不可以語於冰者,篤於時也;曲士不可以語於道者,束於教也。今爾出於崖涘,觀於大海,乃知爾醜,爾將可與語大理矣。”
Zhuangzi, The Way of Chuang Tzu
tags: ch-17
“The Need to Win

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 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.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“The Empty Boat

He who rules men lives in confusion;
He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.
Yao therefore desired
Neither to influence others
Nor to be influenced by them.
The way to get clear of confusion
And free of sorrow
Is to live with Tao
In the land of the great Void.

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

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.

The straight tree is the first to be cut down,
The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.
If you wish to improve your wisdom
And shame the ignorant,
To cultivate your character
And outshine others;
A light will shine around you
As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:
You will not avoid calamity.

A wise man has said:
"He who is content with himself
Has done a worthless work.
Achievement is the beginning of failure.
Fame is beginning of disgrace."

Who can free himself from achievement
And from fame, descend and be lost
Amid the masses of men?
He will flow like Tao, unseen,
He will go about like Life itself
With no name and no home.
Simple is he, without distinction.
To all appearances he is a fool.
His steps leave no trace. He has no power.
He achieves nothing, has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Confucious and the Madman (excerpt)

The cinnamon tree is edible: so it is cut down!
The lacquer tree is profitable: they maim it.
Every man knows how useful it is to be useful.
No one seems to know
How useful it is to be useless.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
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Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Perfect Joy (excerpts)


Is there to be found on earth a fullness of joy, or is there no such thing?

. . . What the world values is money, reputation, long life, achievement. What it counts as joy is health and comfort of body, good food, fine clothes, beautiful things to look at, pleasant music to listen to.

What it condemns is lack of money, a low social rank, a reputation for being no good, and an early death.

What it considers misfortune is bodily discomfort and labour, no chance to get your fill of good food, not having good clothes to wear, having no way to amuse or delight the eye, no pleasant music to listen to. If people find that they are deprived of these things, they go into a panic or fall into despair. They are so concerned for their life that their anxiety makes life unbearable, even when they have the things they think they want. Their very concern for enjoyment makes them unhappy.

. . . I cannot tell if what the world considers "happiness" is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness.

. . . My opinion is that you never find happiness until you stop looking for it. My greatest happiness consists precisely in doing nothing whatever that is calculated to obtain happiness: and this, in the minds of most people, is the worst possible course.

I will hold to the saying that:"Perfect Joy is to be without joy. Perfect praise is to be without praise."

If you ask "what ought to be done" and "what ought not to be done" on earth in order to produce happiness, I answer that these questions do not have an answer. There is no way of determining such things.

Yet at the same time, if I cease striving for happiness, the "right" and the "wrong" at once become apparent all by themselves.

Contentment and well-being at once become possible the moment you cease to act with them in view, and if you practice non-doing (wu wei), you will have both happiness and well-being.

Here is how I sum it up:
Heaven does nothing: its non-doing is its serenity.
Earth does nothing: its non-doing is its rest.
From the union of these two non-doings
All actions proceed,
All things are made.
How vast, how invisible
This coming-to-be!
All things come from nowhere!
How vast, how invisible -
No way to explain it!
All beings in their perfection
Are born of non-doing.
Hence it is said:
"Heaven and earth do nothing
Yet there is nothing they do not do."

Where is the man who can attain
To this non-doing?”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Where self-interest is the bond, The friendship is dissolved When calamity comes. Where Tao is the bond, Friendship is made perfect By calamity.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Leaving Things Alone (excerpt)

You train your eye and your vision lusts after colour. You train your ear, and you long for delightful sound. You delight in doing good, and your natural kindness is blown out of shape. You delight in righteousness, and you become righteous beyond all reason. You overdo liturgy, and you turn into a ham actor. Overdo your love of music, and you play corn. Love of wisdom leads to wise contriving. Love of knowledge leads to faultfinding.

If men would stay as they really are, taking or leaving these eight delights would make no difference. But if they will not rest in their right state, the eight delights develop like malignant tumors. The world falls into confusion. Since man honour these delights, and lust after them, the world has gone stone-blind.

When the delight is over, they still will not let go of it: they surround its memory with ritual worship, they fall on their knees to talk about it, play music and sing, fast and discipline themselves in honour of the eight delights. When the delights become a religion, how can you control them?”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“When Knowledge Went North (excerpt)

As for us,
We came nowhere near being right,
Since we have the answers.
"For he who knows does not speak
He who speaks does not know"
And "The Wise Man gives instruction
Without the use of speech.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Means and Ends

The purpose of a fish trap
Is to catch fish,
And when the fish are caught
The trap is forgotten.

The purpose of a rabbit snare
Is to catch rabbits.
When the rabbits are caught
The snare is forgotten.

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.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“The Tower of the Spirit

The Spirit has an impregnable tower
Which no danger can disturb
As long as the tower is guarded
By the invisible Protector
Who acts unconsciously, and whose actions
Go astray when they become deliberate,
Reflexive, and intentional.

The unconscious
And entire sincerity of Tao
Are disturbed by any effort
At self-conscious demonstration.
All such demonstrations
Are lies.

When one displays himself
In this ambiguous way
The world storms in
and imprisons him.

He is no longer protected
by the sincerity of Tao.

Each new act
Is a new failure.

If his acts are done in public,
In broad daylight,
He will be punished by men.
If they are done in private
And in secret,
He will be punished
By spirits.

Let each one understand
The meaning of sincerity
and guard against display.

He will be at peace
with men and spirits
and will act rightly, unseen,
in his own solitude,
in the tower of his spirit.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“The Inner Law

He whose law is within himself
Walks in hiddenness.
His acts are not influenced
By approval or disapproval.
He whose law is outside himself
Directs his will to what is
Beyond his control
And seeks
To extend his power
Over objects.

He who walks in hiddenness
Has light to guide him
In all his acts.
He who seeks to extend his control
Is nothing but an operator.
While he thinks he is
Surpassing others,
Others see him merely
Straining, stretching,
To stand on tiptoe.

When he tries to extend his power
Over objects,
Those objects gain control
Of him.

He who is controlled by objects
Loses possession of his inner self:
If he no longer values himself,
How can he value others?
If he no longer values others,
He is abandoned.
He has nothing left!

There is no deadlier weapon than the will!
The sharpest sword
Is not equal to it!
There is no robber so dangerous
As Nature (Yang and Yin).
Yet it is not nature
That does the damage:
It is man’s own will!”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Useless

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu:
“All your teaching is centred on what has no use.”

Chuang Tzu replied:
“If you have no appreciation for what has no use,
You cannot begin to talk about what can be used.

The earth for example, is broad and vast,
But of all this expanse a man uses only a few inches
Upon which he happens to be standing.

Now suppose you suddenly take away
All that he actually is not using,
So that all around his feet a gulf
Yawns, and he stands in the Void
With nowhere solid except under each foot.
How long will he be able to use what he is using?

Hui Tzu said: “It would cease to serve any purpose.”

Chuang Tzu concluded:
“This showsThe absolute necessity
Of what has ' no use.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“The mark of the "Noble Minded Man" is that he does not do things simply because they are pleasing or profitable to himself, but because they flow from an unconditional moral imperative. They are things that he sees to be right and good in themselves. Hence, anyone who is guided by the profit motive, even though it be for the profit of the society to which he belongs, is not capable of living a genuinely moral life. Even when his acts do not conflict with the moral law, they remain amoral because they are motivated by the desire of profit and not for the love of good.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Cracking the safe (excerpt)

A poor man must swing
For stealing a belt buckle
But if a rich man steals a whole state
He is acclaimed
As statesmen of the year . . .

Moral: the more you pile up ethical principles
And duties and obligations
To bring everyone in line
The more you gather loot
For a thief like Khang.
By ethical argument
And moral principle
The greatest crimes are eventually shown
To have been necessary, and, in fact,
A signal benefit
To mankind.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Action and Non-Action

The non-action of the wise man is not inaction.
It is not studied. It is not shaken by anything.
The sage is quiet because he is not moved,
Not because he wills to be quiet . . .

From emptiness comes the unconditioned,
From this the conditioned, the individual things.
So from the sage's emptiness, stillness arises;
From stillness, action. From action, attainment.
From their stillness comes their non-action, which is also action
And is, therefore, their attainment.
For stillness is joy. Joy is free from care
Fruitful in long years.

Joy does all things without concern:
For emptiness, stillness, tranquility, tastelessness,
Silence, and non-action
Are the root of all things.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“The Active Life

If an expert does not have some problem to vex him,
he is unhappy!
If a philosopher's teaching is never attacked, she pines
away!
If critics have no one on whom to exercise their spite,
they are unhappy.
All such people are prisoners in the world of objects.

He who wants followers, seeks political power.
She who wants reputation, holds an office.
The strong man looks for weights to lift.
The brave woman looks for an emergency in which she
can show bravery.
The swordsman wants a battle in which he can swing
his sword.
People past their prime prefer a dignified retirement,
in which they may seem profound.
People experienced in law seek difficult cases to extend
the application of the laws.
Liturgists and musicians like festivals in which they
parade their ceremonious talents.
The benevolent, the dutiful, are always looking for
chances to display virtue.

Where would the gardener be if there were no more
weeds?
What would become of business without a market of
fools?
Where would the masses be if there were no pretext
for getting jammed together and making noise?
What would become of labor if there were no superfluous objects to
be made?

Produce! Get results! Make money! Make friends!
Make changes!
Or you will die of despair!

Those who are caught in the machinery of power take no joy except
in activity and change--the whirring of the machine! Whenever an
occasion for action presents itself, they are compelled to act; they
cannot help themselves. They are inexorably moved, like the ma-
chine of which they are a part. Prisoners in the world of objects,
they have no choice but to submit to the demands of matter! They
are pressed down and crushed by external forces, fashion, the mar-
ket, events, public opinion. Never in a whole lifetime do they re-
cover their right mind! The active life! What a pity!”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“For he who knows does not speak, He who speaks does not know” (12) And “The Wise Man gives instruction Without the use of speech.” (13)”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu: “All your teaching is centered on what has no use.” Chuang replied: “If you have no appreciation for what has no use You cannot begin to talk about what can be used. The earth, for example, is broad and vast But of all this expanse a man uses only a few inches Upon which he happens to be standing. Now suppose you suddenly take away All that he is not actually using So that, all around his feet a gulf Yawns, and he stands in the Void, With nowhere solid except right under each foot: How long will he be able to use what he is using?” Hui Tzu said: “It would cease to serve any purpose.” Chuang Tzu concluded: “This shows The absolute necessity Of what has ‘no use.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“WHEN LIFE WAS FULL THERE WAS NO HISTORY In the age when life on earth was full, no one paid any special attention to worthy men, nor 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.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Leaving Things Alone (excerpt)

Too much pleasure? Yang has too much influence. Too much suffering? Yin has too much influence. When one of these outweighs the other, it is as if the seasons came at the wrong times. The balance of cold and heat is destroyed; the body of man suffers.

Too much happiness, too much unhappiness, out of due time, men are thrown off balance. What will they do next? Thought runs wild. No control. They start everything, finish nothing. Here competition begins, here the idea of excellence is born, and robbers appear in the world.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“The Kingly Man

My master said:
That which acts on all and meddles in none - is heaven . . .
The Kingly Man realizes this, hides it in his heart,
Grows boundless, wide-minded, draws all to himself.
And so he lets the gold lie hidden in the mountain,
Leaves the pearl lying in the deep.

Goods and possessions are no gain in his eyes,
He stays far from wealth and honour.
Long life is no ground for joy, nor early death for sorrow
Success is not for him to be proud of, failure is no shame.

Had he all the world's power he would not hold it as his own,
If he conquered everything he would not take it to himself.
His glory is in knowing that all things come together in One
And life and death are equal.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“When Life was Full

In the age when life on earth was full, no one paid any special attention to worthy men, nor 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.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Duke Hwan and the Wheelwright (an excerpt)

The world values books, and thinks that in so doing it is valuing Tao. But books contain words only. And yet there is something else which gives value to the books. Not the words only, nor the thought in the words, but something else within the thought, swinging it in a certain direction that words cannot apprehend.

But it is the words themselves that the world values when it commits them to books: and though the world values them, these words are worthless as long as that which gives them value is not held in honor.

That which man apprehends by observation is only outward form and colour, name and noise: and he thinks that this will put him in possession of Tao. Form and color, name and sound, do not reach to reality. That is why: "He who knows does not say, he who says, does not know."

How then is the world going to know Tao through words?”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Keng's Disciple

The disciple: "When I don't know people treat me like a fool.
When I do know, the knowledge gets me into trouble.
When I fail to do good. I hurt others.
When I do good, I hurt myself.
If I avoid my duty, I am remiss,
But if I do it, I am ruined.
How can I get out of these contradictions?
This is what I came to ask you."

". . . .You are trying to sound
The middle of the ocean
With a six-foot pole.
You have got lost and are trying
To find your way back
To your own true self.
You find nothing
But illegible signposts
Pointing in all directions.
I pity you."

The disciple asked for admittance,
Took a cell, and there
Meditated,
Trying to cultivate qualities
He thought desirable
And get rid of others
Which he disliked.
Ten days of that!
Despair!

". . . Do not try
To hold on to Tao -
Just hope that Tao
Will keep hold of you!"

". . . You want the first elements?
The infant has them.
Free from care, unaware of self,
He acts without reflection,
Stays where he is put, does not know why,
Does not figure things out,
Just goes along with them,
Is part of the current.
These are the first elements!"

The disciple asked:
Is this perfection?

Lao replied: "Not at all.
It is only the beginning.
This melts the ice.

This enables you
To unlearn,
So that you can be led by Tao,
Be a child of Tao

If you persist in trying
To attain what is never attained
(It is Tao's gift!)
If you persist in making effort
To obtain what effort cannot get;
If you persist in reasoning
About what cannot be understood,
You will be destroyed
By the very thing you seek.

To know when to stop to know
When you can get no further
By your own action,
This is the right beginning!”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“Advising the Prince

The recluse Hsu Su Kwei had come to see Prince Wu.
The Prince was glad. "I have desired," he said, "To see you for a long time. Tell me if I am doing right.
I want to love my people, and by the exercise of justice
To put an end to war.
Is this enough?

"By no means," said the recluse.
"Your 'love' for your people
Puts them in mortal danger.
Your exercise of justice is the root
Of war after war!
Your grand intentions
Will end in disaster!

"If you set out to 'accomplish something great'
You only deceive yourself.
Your love and justice
Are fraudulent.
They are mere pretexts
For self-assertion, for aggression.
One action will bring on another
And in the chain of events
Your hidden intentions
Will be made plain.

You claim to practice justice. Should you seem to succeed
Success itself will bring more conflict.
Why all these guards
Standing at attention
At the palace gate around the temple altar
Everywhere.

You are at war with yourself!
You do not believe in justice,
Only in power and success.
If you overcome
An enemy and annex his country
You will be even less at peace
With yourself than you are now.
Nor will your passions let you
Sit still. You will fight again
And again for the sake of
A more perfect exercise of justice!

Abandon your plan
To be a 'loving inequitable ruler.'
Try to respond
To the demands of inner truth.
Stop vexing yourself and your people
With these obsessions!
Your people will breathe easy at last.
They will live
And war will end by itself!”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu
“If you persist in trying To attain what is never attained (It is Tao’s gift!) If you persist in making effort To obtain what effort cannot get; If you persist in reasoning About what cannot be understood, You will be destroyed By the very thing you seek.”
Thomas Merton, The Way of Chuang Tzu

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