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The Second Book of the Tao Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 19, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Stephen Mitchell was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1943, educated at Amherst, the Sorbonne, and Yale, and de-educated through intensive Zen practice. His many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, The Gospel According to Jesus, Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Job, Meetings with the Archangel, and Gilgamesh. Mitchell is married to Byron Katie and cowrote two of her bestselling books: Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

The Dream of a Butterfly

Chuang-tzu dreamt that he was a butterfly, fluttering here and there, carefree, unaware of a Chuang-tzu. Then he woke up, and there he was: Chuang-tzu, beyond a doubt. But was he Chuang-tzu who had dreamt that he was a butterfly, or a butterfly now dreaming that he was Chuang-tzu? There must be some difference between Chuang-tzu and a butterfly! This is called "the transformation of things."

The most famous dream in human history. You may feel that, as with Zeno's paradoxes, there is something specious going on here, if only you could put your finger on it. But the more closely you examine the story, the more penetrating Chuang-tzu's question becomes. He's the anti-serpent in the garden, tempting you to take one little bite from the Tree of Life. He's Alice's Caterpillar, puffing on his hookah and asking, "Who are you?" In fact, with time running backward as in a Feynman diagram, Alice's Caterpillar could well have metamorphosed into Chuang-tzu's butterfly, just to prove a point.

You may be recalling that psychē the Greek word for "soul," can also mean "butterfly." But let's leave the Greeks out of this. Chuang-tzu is definitely Chinese, he thinks. His butterfly is not a metamorphosis, not a metaphor; it's just a butterfly. Just? How can we know what depths of joy lie hidden within that pinpoint of a brain? The whole world contained in a garden, in a single flower! All time contained in a summer's day, and life one all-embracing multiorgasmic fragrance!

And who knows what a butterfly might dream of? Of an ancient Chinese philosopher, perhaps, or of a nineteenth-century Oxford don who was enchanted by little girls. This particular butterfly woke up as Chuang- tzu—or was it Chuang-tzu who woke up as himself? "There he was again, beyond a doubt." Beyond a doubt? Ha!

Things change before our very eyes, whether our eyes are open or shut. A butterfly becomes a man, a man becomes a question mark, a question mark becomes a winged creature, carefree, doing whatever it likes. Thus identity melts away, and we are left with something more valuable: a self—a non-self—that includes it all.

Cutting Up an Ox

Prince Wen-hui's cook, Ting, was cutting up an ox. Every touch of his hand, every ripple of his shoulders, every step of his feet, every thrust of his knees, every cut of his knife, was in perfect harmony, like the dance of the Mulberry Grove, like the chords of the Lynx Head music.

"Well done!" said the prince. "How did you gain such skill?"

Putting down his knife, Ting said, "I follow the Tao, Your Highness, which goes beyond all skills. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox. After three years, I had learned to look beyond the ox. Nowadays I see with my whole being, not with my eyes. I sense the natural lines, and my knife slides through by itself, never touching a joint, much less a bone.

"A good cook changes knives once a year: he cuts. An ordinary cook changes knives once a month: he hacks. This knife of mine has lasted for nineteen years; it has cut up thousands of oxen, but its blade is as sharp as if it were new. Between the joints there are spaces, and the blade has no thickness. Having no thickness, it slips right through; there's more than enough room for it. And when I come to a difficult part, I slow down, I focus my attention, I barely move, the knife finds its way, until suddenly the flesh falls apart on its own. I stand there and let the joy of the work fill me. Then I wipe the blade clean and put it away."

"Bravo!" cried the prince. "From the words of this cook, I have learned how to live my life."

In his rules for right livelihood, the Buddha proscribed trafficking in meat (and in weapons, slaves, intoxicants, and poison). Clearly, he never imagined someone like Prince Wen-hui's cook: an artist of ox flesh, a saint of the bloody carcass. So much for rules. This just shows that nothing in life can be categorized or excluded. The whole world is our palette.

Ting, it must be said, was a man of supreme integrity, who trusted what is and needed no one's appreciation. For decades he had been putting on his one-man show for an audience of zero: no one was watching—not even he. The glorious harmony of motion and intention simply happened without him. How can we know the dancer from the dance?

In the practice of butchery, he had learned how to step aside and let his body do the thinking. He followed the Tao into a world of unadulterated sensation, an Eden of the don't-know mind. The vast universe, with its myriad chiliocosms within chiliocosms, became a single knife-blade gliding through empty space. What did it matter that his material was slaughtered oxen rather than sounds or colors or words? Nothing remained but the pure joy of the work.

And let's not forget the admirable Wen-hui. Instead of being caught up in princely pursuits like governing, hunting, or dallying with his concubines, there he was in the kitchen, taking exquisite notice of the lowly, which turned out to contain the supreme. When the student is ready, the teacher appears.

Answer to Job

Master Ssu, Master Yu, Master Li, and Master Lai were talking. "Whoever can see non- being as his head, life as his back, and death as his butt, whoever knows that existence and non-existence are one body—that's someone we can be friends with." The four men looked at one another and smiled.

Then Master Yu got sick. Master Ssu went to visit him. "How are you?" he said.

Master Yu said, "Amazing! Look at how the Creator has bent me out of shape. My back is so curved that my intestines are on top of me. My chin digs into my belly button, my shoulders arch over my head, and my neck bones point to the sky." Yet he seemed peaceful and unconcerned. Hobbling over to the well, he looked in and said, "My, my! How totally He has bent me out of shape!"

"Are you discouraged?" asked Master Ssu.

"Not at all," Master Yu said. "Why should I be? If things go on like this, maybe He'll change my left arm into a rooster, and I'll announce the dawn. Maybe He'll change my right arm into a crossbow, and I'll shoot a duck for dinner. Or maybe He'll change my buttocks into wheels, and with my spirit for a horse I'll climb up into myself and go for a ride. I won't ever need a wagon again!

"I received life when the time came, and I'll give it back when the time comes. Anyone who understands the proper order of things—that everything happens at exactly the right time—will be untouched by sorrow or joy. In ancient times this was called 'original freedom.' When you argue with reality, you lose. It has always been this way. That's why I have no complaints whatsoever."

These four old Chinese sages, who have met in the intimacy of realization, are like the men whom Yeats saw carved in lapis lazuli, climbing toward a little half-way house sweetened by plum- or cherry-branch. Where are Chuang-tzu's men—in a garden? in a tea shop? The setting doesn't matter. Wherever it is, whether flowers surround them or falling leaves, I delight to imagine them seated there, knowing themselves to the core, saying only what is essential, and smiling in appreciation of the emptiness at the heart of things.

End of Act One. Act Two is the answer to Job. Perhaps twenty years have gone by, or twenty days. Master Yu is afflicted with a neuromuscular syndrome that has bent him over like a paper clip. "Afflicted"? No: presented; graced. He relates his symptoms with the aplomb of a pathologist teaching a case study, a connoisseur describing a masterpiece. No wonder he's so kind to himself. He had no preconceptions. He doesn't take the disease personally.

People think that detachment must be a cold, humorless business. But Master Yu couldn't be more witty or engaging. Will his left arm turn into a rooster, his right arm a crossbow, his buttocks the wheels of a chariot? Anything can happen, after all, in this world of perpetual transformation, and he trusts that it will all be turned to good use. His amused segue into the surreal is a portrait of the mind at ease with itself.

To conclude the dialogue, we're given a statement of what the Masters are masters of. It's as if the smiles of the four old men have been transubstantiated into words. Original freedom: the epitome of imperturbability, the gaiety of the mind that cannot be upset by anything that happens, because at last it has met itself with understanding.

The Art of Cloudlessness

Chuang-tzu and Hui-tzu were playing checkers. "You say that you're an ordinary person," Hui-tzu said. "If you're so ordinary, how can you be so happy?"

Chuang-tzu said, "I'm just like anyone else, except that I don't have feelings like anger, fear, or sadness. Since I don't suffer, 'good' and 'bad' can't affect me."

Hui-tzu said, "Can someone really not suffer?"

Chuang-tzu said, "Of course. When you understand the mind, you're no longer attached to likes and dislikes, so they can't do you any harm. You just follow reality and don't try to control. It's as simple as that."

Hui-tzu said, "But...


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The (February 19, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594202036
  • ASIN: B002BWQ590
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,233,707 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Stephen Mitchell was born in Brooklyn in 1943, educated at Amherst, the Sorbonne, and Yale, and de-educated through intensive Zen practice. His many books include the bestselling Tao Te Ching, The Gospel According to Jesus, Bhagavad Gita, The Book of Job, Meetings with the Archangel, Gilgamesh, The Second Book of the Tao, and the Iliad. When he is not writing, he likes to (in no particular order) think about writing, think about not writing, not think about writing, and not think about not writing. He is married to Byron Katie and cowrote two of her bestselling books: Loving What Is and A Thousand Names for Joy. You can read extensive excerpts from all his books on his website,

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

34 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Neal J. Pollock VINE VOICE on April 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Based on Chuang Tzu's (CT's) "Inner Chapters" & Confucius' grandson's "Chung Yung" (CY), this work consists of
a short introduction,
pp. 1-130 with even pages of highly "adapted" text & facing page commentary,
pp. 131-82--endnotes on both text & commentary,
pp. 183-200: endnotes on the adaptation (left out/added words).
It's an awkward structure IMHO--one must continually flip back & forth between these 3 parts. I particularly liked his introduction's summary of CT--p. xiii: "simply someone who doesn't linger in any mental construct about reality, someone who lives as effortless action & peace of heart, because he has freed himself from his own beliefs." The text/commentary section's pages are hardly full--padding the number of pages. Further, CT & CY are intermixed, unmarked as to source, out of order, & lack a discernible (to me) logical order.

Though I'd already read Lao Tze (e.g. Tao Te Ching), Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters, & Blofeld's Taoism: The Road to Immortality, I had few problems with the loose adaptation of the text except when a bit heavy-handed--e.g. important lines left out. I admired SM's 3rd section which explains the omissions/additions. While SM makes some valuable observations in his commentary (e.g. p. 61: "The Master lives a life of appropriate action because he doesn't believe his own thoughts, there is no barrier between his mind & reality" & p.
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இ Fuzzy Wuzzy's Summary:
ѾѾѾ Somewhat recommended, with reservations and only lukewarm fuzzies.

First, a comment of what I mean by my title's reference to "cream cheese wontons". In the past, when people visiting from out-of-town ask me for advice on good Chinese restaurants in the area, my reply is always, "Do you want to eat at authentic Chinese restaurants or Americanized Chinese restaurants?" Sometimes, their reply will be, "What is the difference?" And I always tell them that many Americanized Chinese restaurants have cream cheese wontons, crab rangoon, and chop suey on the menu, along with wayyyyyy too much sugar added to their sauces, while most authentic Chinese restaurants do not have these on the menu. And while there is nothing wrong with enjoying the taste of these along with always ordering sesame chicken, I tell them that they should be aware that is not really true Chinese cooking.

And thus it is this similar non-authentic feeling that I am left with after reading Stephen Mitchell's adaptation of the Chuang Tzu and the Chung Yung. If you enter either of these terms in the Amazon Web site's 'Search' field, you will get far more true-to-form translations of these classics instead of one person's adapted and subjectively modified versions. Stephen's commentaries pull in a who's who of Western references (Einstein, Shakespeare, Yeats, and William Blake get mentioned along with various others), and the commentaries are almost poetic at times because of that. This is a good read, but please do yourself a favor and first read a more authentic translation of these classics. Otherwise, it would be like going to hear your local symphony play "The Music of Led Zeppelin" or "The Music of The Eagles" without having ever heard their original recordings.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By W.T.Hoffman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
First off, a few matters need to be clarified, that are obscured from the product discription. Stephen Mitchell does NOT give us a TRANSLATION from the Chinese of quotes from these two classics of Toaism, but rather gives us ADAPTATIONS. Mitchell relied upon various English translations of these books, mostly Burton Watson's translation of the Chuang-Tzu selections, and various others for the Chung Yung. After picking thru the two classics, he edited, changed allusions, added sentences here and there, and transformed the original poems into prose. In fact, because he doesnt say next to his 64 selections, and rarely in his notes, which "poem" or poet he is working from, there's mostly no way of knowing WHICH ORIGINAL PIECE youre reading. Next to his selections, he devotes a page of personal insight and commentary. In one, he comments more on his own intellectual trip, by naming eight western geniuses, to make his point. Citing the ancient geniuses of one's culture, to prove one's assertation, is EXACTLY what Chang Tzu pokes fun at, in his "Free and Easy Wandering" Poem. Even if you have the most vague about the Toa, any two paragraph introduction tells you Toaism is centered around the paradoxes of the world, and that the true Toa is ineffable. Most toaist poems like to equivocate with language and terms, (written chinese characters by nature, often have many layers of meaning). So semantic twists, or parables, are used by the Toaist master, to shock our rational mind to see the world fresh and new. If we can see the world as a baby, whose thoughts are flexible, pliable and lack preconception, we see the toa like the wise old master. But Mitchell's commentary can at times delve into solipism, or merely expanding what the source text says.Read more ›
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