I first read a translation of Chuang Tzus works from an old text in a library - it was quite difficult to understand and a bit wordy, but obviously was of important content. Following this I bought a better translation (Palmer) of it. This was good - however buying this book gave me insights I'd not had with more wordy versions. Although not useful for a historian (since it is not a direct translation) - this conveys the meaning far better than any translation I have every read. Also, each story is concise and snappy, and very accessible. This book is a life changer. The only dissapointment I had is that the quality of the paper and cover is not as good as it used to be (I gave my original copy away to someone who was desperate to read it). In total I have bought 4 copies of this book (for friends etc) and I'm going to buy a fifth. BUY IT - I cannot believe anyone would be dissapointed.
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 (bakonyvilla)
Thomas Merton captures the spirit and meaning of the great Daoist philosopher Zhuang Zi like few others. Merton's natural, poetic language faithfully renders the free, flowing nature of Zhuang Zi's original masterpiece. I only wish Merton had translated more.
'The Way of Chuang Tzu' was written from previous translations of Chuang Tzu's writings, and as such might 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.
If you are interested in Taoism or Eastern thought then get this book. It is a free translation by an exceptional human being which is very rare. Burton Watson offers the best academic type translation but this book is even more accessable, to the interested reader, having both would be great. If you are interested in this area get this book.
This is a beautiful rendition (from Thomas Merton 1913-1968), of the text known as the 'Zhuangzi' (Chuang Tzu) in Chinese, a text that takes the name of its author 'master Zhuang'. The work of this Chinese sage dates to around the 4th century BC - during the so-called Hundred Schools of Thought period, a time of great spiritual and intellectual outpouring in China. Zhuangzi's thought is considered part of the tradition known as Philosophical Daoism (Lao-Zhuang). In the original Chinese text, there are 33 chapters divided into three sections:
Zhuangzi's work looks at realising and perceiving the 'Dao', or 'Way' in every situation. Confucius is included in the text, but usually criticised for not going far enough in his pursuing of the 'Way'. For Zhuangzi, the Dao of Confucius is not the 'Great Way', but rather a small, private undertaking. Whatever the philosophical differences between these two sages, both tried to advise rulers, the Zhuangzi says:
'My Master said:
That which acts on all but meddles in none - is heaven...
The Kingly Man realises this, and hides it in his heart, Grows boundless, wide-minded, draws all to himself.'
Ths is not a translation from the original Chinese text, as Merton makes clear in his introduction. Instead, over a five year period, Merton studied four extant versions in three languages - two English, one French and one German. He made notes during medition and this book is the result. It carries the following dedication:
'For John CH Wu Without whose encouragement I would never have dared this.'
This is an abridged version, with Merton quoting from 32 of the 33 chapters in order, but using only selected paragraphs of each chapter. Nevertheless, the effect is compelling. Merton, as a Christian monk has fully penetrated the mysterious sayings of Zhuangzi and presented us with his valuable insight and understanding. A spiritual classic.
I first read Zhuangzi in Burton Watson's brilliant translation. He himself recommends that you read other versions because the archaic Chinese it's written in is obscure and apparently can be translated in many different ways. Thomas Merton complements that version wonderfully well, putting an entirely different spin on the writing in some places, whilst in others changing the emphasis and teasing out new meanings.
It's irrelevant to discuss which is better because they're both equally good in their own ways. Thomas Merton is a little more accessible and has a lovely flow to it but Burton Watson explores the nuances in more depth and contains the full text, not just Merton's selected highlights. Choosing which one to buy is not really too much of a dilemma though - you'll probably want to get them both in the end!
Shambhala have produced not only a wonderful hardback book, wonderful not only for its content but the appearance and quality of the book. Thomas Merton spent some 5 years researching four different translations of Chuang Tzu and put together this personal compilation together with a brief study of Chuang Tzu which puts the reader in touch with the mind of Chuang Tzu. For those who have an interest in the Tao and wanting to gain some deeper understanding, some of these translations may point to the way by saying it with humour, or just stop you in your tracks with an enlightening story, a treasured book!