Saturday, January 31, 2015

the empty boat (wu wei)

“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

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton. 

Many people are recognizing and writing about Merton now. I have certainly had plenty to say these last few years in my explorations of Merton’s art and writing.

Here are some things that I found this past week that I hadn’t seen before. Painting of Prades, France by Owen Merton, Thomas Merton's artist father:


Photo of Merton's father and mother, Owen and Ruth, in Prades -- at least the full photograph. I have seen this shot of Owen "lifted" from the photo.:


And a photo of Merton's draft of the beginning of Seven Story Mountain:


12 comments:

  1. last day ln january !
    good stuff beth !
    blessings

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    1. blessings to you bob.
      1st day of February.

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  2. The empty boat passage is one of my all time favorites! Lovely ... Thanks for your sharing!

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    1. Mine too, Deborah. It seems most fitting to be added to the hoopla surrounding the 100th anniversary of Merton's birth. I tend to think that if you focus too much on Merton the man, you will miss the message.

      This also reminds me of the slow boat poem that Lax has on his tombstone.

      The empty boat poem itself is much longer. Here is the whole thing:

      “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

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    2. My thanks are to you Beth. I am presently working my way through Daniel Madigan's presentations at last year's John Main seminar which I learned of through your "quotes and musings" post of 2nd September. You are truly a dispenser of treasures. Hope all is going well and that you are in strength.

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    3. Wow. I admire you for following up with Dan Madigan. I was very intrigued with his proclaiming that the body is the language of Christianity, and that Jesus is carried not by the New Testament but by Mary. That got my attention. I will look up that John Main seminar.

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  3. 2cents of interest !

    On Pilgrimage: http://jimandnancyonpilgrimage.blogspot.com/

    Blessings _________________________________

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  4. I put my reply in the wrong place above. I was commenting that this poem is listed as a translation of Merton's

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    1. You're right, Linda. It is Merton's translation of the writings of Chuang Tzu. Merton puts his own spin on them.

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coming to terms with what is inmost in our selves ...

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