Thomas Merton – ‘The Way of Chuang Tzu’ 2

The essence of the Tao is precisely this idea of the balance of the coincidence of the opposites so favoured by Carl Jung and experienced and written about by amongst others Thomas Merton and Harry Williams. It seems as if it is a breakthrough into a realization of the whole where each part stands in relation to the other.

Part of the Taoist process is self-transformation; we accept that life is transitory and that in this light the pursuit of wealth or fame are vain foolishness; they are distractions from seeing and understanding the world and contemplating its meaning. Freed from delusions it is easier to be open to the flow of Tao in and through us.

As Merton writes in his ‘Note to the reader’ the ‘way’ is ‘a certain taste for simplicity, for humility, self-effacement, silence’ and alongside this a refusal to take seriously the aggressivity and the ambition and self-importance demanded to get along in society. This ‘way’ prefers not to get anywhere in the world, or even in the field of ‘some supposedly spiritual attainment’.  Merton sees echoes of this in the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible and especially in the Gospels – the ‘Little Way’ of Therese of Lisieux encapsulates this too where to ‘lose one’s life is to save it, and to seek to save it for one’s own sake is to lose it’. Merton explains that the ‘way’ of Chuang Tzu is mysterious precisely because it is so simple – so simple that it can get along without being a way at all.

Merton writes: ‘Least of all is it a ‘way out’. Chuang Tzu would have agreed with St John of the Cross that you enter upon this kind of way when you leave all ways and in some sense get lost.’ This is the letting go of all concepts and assumptions – as in contemplative prayer but here it is a way of being – totally present to what ‘is’, seeing without adding to what we have seen – how hard is that…

Here are a couple of stanzas from Tao from translations as interpreted by Merton:

To name Tao

Is to name no-thing.

Tao is not the name

Of an ‘existent.’

‘Cause’ and ‘chance’

Have no bearing on Tao.

Tao is a name

That indicates

Without defining.

Tao is beyond words

And beyond things.

It is not expressed

Either in word or in silence.

Where there is no longer word or silence

Tao is apprehended.