The Way of Chuang Tzu (Second Edition)
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191 of 195 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 2002
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I used this as a text in a highschool class on meditation. I chose it after looking at all the translations I could get my hands on (my Chinese, alas! is not yet up to reading the original.) Other translations were sometimes more literal and accurate, and some did a better job of conveying Chuang's brilliant word-play, but the overall impression they left of Chuang was either of a pedant (the older translations) or a sneering, bitter stand-up comic (the newer ones). This is much more deeply untrue to Chuang-Tzu than any passing inaccuracy or missed word-play could ever be.
There is only one way in which Merton is more qualified than Chuang's other interpreters: he, like Chuang, was a serious, long-time contemplative, a person who spent hours a day at meditation and prayer. But this qualification seems to me to have trumped all others. Merton and Chuang were brothers: no matter that they were two millenia and half a world apart. Somewhere right now they are walking together at a river's edge, watching the fish leap.
"I know the joy of fishes
In the river
Through my own joy, as I go walking
Along the same river"
My students, by the way -- rather to my surprise -- loved this book as much as I did.
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102 of 104 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2001
Anyone who may be coming to Chuang Tzu for the first time is in for a treat. Although Chuang Tzu is sometimes described as the most brilliant of all Chinese philosophers, what we find in him isn't what we normally understand by 'Philosophy' and isn't technical at all.
His appeal is not so much to the intellect as to the imagination, and he chose as a vehicle for his philosophical insights, not tedious and lengthy abstract treatises, but brief and witty anecdotes and dialogues and tales. His humor, sophistication, literary genius, and philosophical insights found their perfect expression in his brilliant fragments, and once having read them you never forget them.
Not much is known about Chuang Tzu, other than that he seems to have lived around the time of King Hui of Liang (370-319 B.C.). The received text of his book, which is sometimes referred to as 'the Chuang Tzu' (CT), is made up of thirty-three Chapters. Most scholars seem to feel that the CT is a composite text, and that only the first seven - the Inner Chapters - plus a few bits from the others are Chuang Tzu's own work, the remainder being by his followers.
Among the better known of his translators, all of them excellent, are Arthur Waley, Lin Yutang, and Burton Watson, though only the latter translated the complete text. An abridged version of Watson's complete translation was later made available for those who only want to read the Inner Chapters. All three of these scholars were Sinologists and had direct access to Chuang Tzu's stylistically brilliant though somewhat difficult Chinese.
In contrast to the linguistic expertise of Waley, Lin Yutang, and Watson, Thomas Merton frankly admits to having no Chinese at all. He has, however, soaked himself in all the best translations, and he tells us that his "free interpretive renderings of characteristic passages [were] the result of five years of reading, study, annotation, and meditation." His readings, then, are to be understood, not as direct translations, but as "ventures in personal and spiritual interpretation" (page 9).
If we consider that Merton was a bit of a literary genius himself, we won't be surprised by Burton Watson's comment on his readings. In the Introduction to his 'Complete Works of Chuang Tzu,' he tells us that: "[Merton's readings] give a fine sense of the liveliness and poetry of Chuang Tzu's style, and are actually almost as close to the original as the translations upon which they are based" (page 28).
'The Way of Chuang Tzu' is a small book of just 160 pages. After a 'Note to the Reader' and a 17-page 'Study of Chuang Tzu,' sixty-two readings follow. Most of them have been set out as verse, and many are illustrated with marvelous Chinese drawings. The book was first printed in 1965, and the fact that it is still in print tells us that it has been working for many readers. It certainly worked for me, as it's a book I'd never part with and often return to. I'm pretty sure it will work for you too.
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87 of 90 people found the following review helpful
This little book is the perfect companion to Lao-Tzu's _Tao Te Ching_. Thomas Merton assembled it with admirable spiritual insight and sensitivity. Here is the path of the ancient sages. It is not a "how to" manual, for, "He who knows does not speak, and he who speaks does not know." And yet, this book somehow indirectly gives you a sense of what it is to be centered in the Tao. You get a fleeting sense of what it is like to live a life of such centerness and simplicity that it is difficult to tell where your own consciousness ends and the currents of the cosmos begin. This is the state of Wu Wei, effortless action in complete resonance with the Tao.

I suppose that what I found so refreshing during this rereading was the confirmation that men of wealth, station, and learning are not to be admired. They are the least enlightened of men. Indeed, the true man of Tao will live humble in simplicity and obscurity- and yet such beings are the true wellsprings of cosmic harmony between heaven and earth....
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43 of 46 people found the following review helpful
If you like the Tao Te Ching, you will love this book.

The work of Chuang Tzu continues in the tradition of the Tao, and also dates back over 2,300 years. So this work has survived the test of time.

This book is a wisdom classic. Some aspects I love even more than the Tao Te Ching.

There are great stories about and by Chuang Tzu, and even Lao Tzu. You sense the feisty nature of Chuang Tzu. I particularly love the story The Joy of Fishes, which I gave to a few people in the office. They in turn copied it and distributed it to friends. Judge for yourself.

Chuang Tzu and Huih Tzu were crossing Hao river by the dam.

Chuang said "See how the free the fishes leap and dart, that is their happiness."

Hui replied "Since you are not a fish, how do you know what makes fishes happy?"

Chuang said "Since you are not I, how can you possibly know that I do not know what makes fishes happy?"

Hui argued " If I, not being you, cannot know what you know, It follows that you not being a fish cannot know what they know."

Chuang said "Wait a minute! Let us get back to the original question. What you asked me was 'How do you know what makes fishes happy? From the term of your question you evidently know that I know what makes fishes happy."

"I know the joy of fishes in the river
Through my own joy as I walk along the bank."

The Owl and The Phoenix is a short but extremely effective story. There is a story about a special monkey. Some of these stories have twists you would not predict.

The best story, I think is the Inner Laws, which seems to concentrate a few concepts from the Tao into a single powerful statement.

As you read this book, if you are like me, you feel as if you are in a darkened room, and you flick the light switch on. Instead of being in a darkened room, you are in a stadium, and as you watch you see all these lights coming on providing a much greater degree of light than you imagined possible.

That said, there are portions of this book I find difficult to understand, and I need to give these a little more thought.
The other vignettes of wisdom are beyond excellent and worthy of the Tao.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on July 18, 2007
I am a recently retired teacher who for thirty-five years have begun every class (Theology, Sexuality, Physics, Chemistry, Math and in summers Arts and Crafts to kids 4-12 years old) with a sounding of small brass cymbals (Tibetan), a minute of silent breathing followed by a short reading from the Tao Te Ching, Emily Dickinson, a portion of the Sermon on the Mount, or the Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton.
I meet former students now pushing into their fifties who baldly admit that those moments have stayed with them all these years and they have included meditation as one of the most important activities in their lives.
Thomas Merton's Introductory Notes say it far better than I ever could and should be read .
I can only wholeheartedly recommend that you buy this book and keep it at your desk or bedside for a quick straightening out of your mind concerning what is really important in life.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, read and compared several different translations of the writings of Chuang Tzu over a five year period. He made notes and from them created a free verse style interpretation of various passages that he liked and were meaningful for him. From those notes this book was born. As a monk, he experienced various states of spiritual being, feeling, and thinking, that are unique to individuals who withdraw into a contemplative life. Every passage and chapter is packed with unique stories, parables, anecdotes which allow the reader to view life ... existence ... from different perspectives. Some passages reinforce already existing ideas. thoughts, and beliefs, others create new ways of "seeing". The writing is poetic and very insightful. This book is an absolute pleasurable reading experience. Some examples below will provide a taste of the contents of this extraordinairy book.
Here is an example of this writing, "When Knowledge Went North":
"Knowledge wandered north
Looking for Tao, over the Dark Sea
And up the Invisible Mountain.
There on the mountain he met
Nondoing, the Speechless One" ...
Another example, "In My End is My Beginning":
"But he who obeys Nature returns through Form and
Formless to the Living,
And in the Living
Joins the unbegun Beginnning" ...
If the reader enjoys deep thinking and feeling, contemplating life in all its myriad aspects then this book is highly recommended. Erika Borsos (erikab93)
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon October 3, 2006
Like a fine wine, this collection is best consumed slowly. As it is clearly stated in the foreward, this is not a faithful reproduction of Chuang Tzu but a collection of personal and spiritual interpretations of his work. Readers that expected otherwise might consider reading the description of the book before purchasing it. It would seem embarassing to write a negative review of a product that goes in complete contradiction of the product's clear description and intentions.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist Monk who took a particular interest in Buddhism and Asian spirituality. Because Merton tragically died at a young age, we will never see a final product of this work. In "The Way of Chuang Tzu", Merton selects writings of Chuang Tzu which reflect a Christian mentality. Obviously, Chuang Tzu was not a Christian. However, this does not disqualify his writings to a Christian audience in any way. If the reader can go into this book with an open mind, he/she is likely to enjoy it. Those who are closed minded to this type of work which may seemingly blur the line between faiths according to their view may be outraged. I would strongly encourage open-mindedness.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on October 19, 1996
'The Way of Chuang Tzu' was written from previous
translations of Chuang Tzu's writings, and as such may
seem to have little to recommend it. In fact, Thomas
Merton's deep spirituality and obvious love of Asian culture
bring these writings alive. Direct translations from the
Chinese are often spiritless and confusing, or at best
unintentionally humorous. Merton's inspirational writings
make it clear why this work has lasted for 2000 years. For a
similar treatment of the Tao Te Ching, read Stephen
Mitchell's translation.
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64 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2006
There are a plethora of translations of Chinese classics out there, but please know that many of these "translations" are just "re-imaginings" of the original, i.e. the authors usually do not know Classical Chinese (let alone modern Chinese!).

Merton is one such "translater". This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as one is aware that this does not strictly reflect the original text (although it may resemble it). What we have here is a picking over of existing translations of the Chuang-tzu and a recombination of them. This is often done with some artistic licence.

Merton is better than most in that he is somewhat sensitive to the original material. Things get vastly worse with translations of the Daodejing (for example, Ursula le Guins monstrous butchering). If you want a more accurate account of the Chuang-tzu then I recommend A.C. Grahams' expert translation which is a relatively successful facsimile of the Chinese original (given the difficulty of rendering Chinese into English anyway).
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 8, 2006
This is a very good translation made by Tomas Merton of Chuang Tzu's works. This also gives a little bit of the view of Tomas Merton due to his Note to the Reader section and his specific selection of some of Chuang Tzu's writings to put in this book. This book has many good proverbs and stories written by Chuang Tzu which can be very enlightening and sometimes humorous. Chuang Tzu is one of the greats of Taoism but of course Lao Tzu takes the top position. If you are interested in the learning about the roots of Taoism you should check out this book and some about Lao Tzu also.
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