empty boat: “… Yet if the boat were empty. He would not be shouting, and not angry …”  … and …  “… This is perfect Tao. Wise men find here their resting place. Resting, they are empty …”  ~ Chuang Tzu

empty boat sunset batam island chuang tzu merton

Ah! … navigating the tricky (some might say treacherous?) waters of life … especially human emotions (e.g., anger and the like) …

Much has been written throughout the ages about navigating such waters …

One of the most gratifying joys of Stillness Speaks is the ongoing discovery of the delightful interconnectedness of traditions  … so it was no surprise to find Chuang Tzu in a recent encounter with Thomas Merton’s Silence, Joy! … which led to further explorations of Merton on this Taoist philosopher via Merton’s  The Way of Chuang Tzu

Chuang Tzu, of course, is credited with writing the Zhuangzi one of the foundational texts of Taoism. Chuang’s The Empty Boat is a well known classic in the Taoist world … and is a great metaphor for charting these waters of life …

And here’s Merton on Chuang Tzu: “… His philosophical temper is, I believe, profoundly original and sane … it is basically simple and direct. It seeks, as does all the greatest philosophical thought, to go immediately to the heart of things. Chuang Tzu is not concerned with words and formulas about reality, but with the direct existential grasp of reality in itself …”

Merton adds: “… The whole Chuang Tzu book is an anthology of the thought, the humor, the gossip, and the irony that were current in Taoist circles in the best period, the 4th and 3rd centuries B.C. But the whole teaching, the “way” contained in these anecdotes, poems, and meditations, is characteristic of a certain mentality found everywhere in the world, a certain taste for simplicity, for humility, self-effacement, silence, and in general a refusal to take seriously the aggressivity, the ambition, the push, and the self-importance which one must display in order to get along in society …”

What is interesting about this Empty Boat  find  is that it magically (maybe even synchronistically) revealed itself after this “gem” from Merton: “… Solitude is not found so much by looking outside the boundaries of your dwelling, as by staying within. Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present, and unless you look for it in the present you will never find it …” … as an exquisite underscoring of the real treasures that lie “within” … and that they are invariably, if not inevitably, found in solitude … when the depth of the “present” reveals itself endlessly …

The gifts of solitude are mysterious indeed! …

solitude present chuang tzu merton

In the spirit of that magic, today we offer the gifts that can be found – some claim are inherent – in Chuang Tzu’s “Empty Boat” … so, pause … take a moment … read … reflect … pause again .. and see what is revealed 🙂

Empty Boat: The “Gateway” to “Perfection” ?

. . .
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.
. . .

“… Such is the perfect man: His boat is empty …”

empty boat chuang tzu merton

. . .
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 … has no reputation.
Since he judges no one
No one judges him.
Such is the perfect man:
His boat is empty.

~ Chuang Tzu (via The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton)

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India is undergoing a humanitarian crisis brought upon by the ravaging resurgence of COVID-19 … we are providing THREE vetted sources that can be used to help provide relief to India … we have donated personally and also as Stillness Speaks to PATH, CARE, and some of the GoFundMe campaigns below …

Despite the financial challenges that are amongst us all, if your situation allows you to donate then please visit one of the following sources … and contribute whatever is possible …

… Deliver oxygen where it’s needed the most through PATH – a global team of innovators working to accelerate health equity so all people and communities can thrive …

… Provide essential hospital services, more health workers, additional beds, oxygen supply, and much more through CARE (and their CARE India chapter) – for 75 years, CARE has led the way to a better life for the world’s most vulnerable people ….

… Donate to India COVID-19 fundraisers on GoFundMe – all fundraisers have been verified by GoFundMe’s Trust & Safety team and will be updated as new fundraisers are created and verified. All GoFundMe fundraisers are backed by the GoFundMe Guarantee which ensures that all funds on this page will go to those affected by India’s COVID-19 surge …

Helping those in extreme need is the “order of the day” …


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May you realize … the inherent gifts in “emptying the boat” … and …

May you remain safe and healthy as you navigate these unsettling times.


The two opening quotes (re boat and angry AND re wise men and resting) and the above excerpts from the Chuang Tzu Poem, and all italicized text including Merton’s quotes in the blockquote (except the “Solitude” one) are from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton


Merton’s quote on Solitude is excerpted from Silence, Joy, A Selection Of Writings by Thomas Merton, Edited by Christopher Wait
Images: (edited and logo added): Featured and 1) Beauty sunset and traditional boat in fisherman village Batam Island by bp1181dy.gmail.com, 2) Amazing nature autumn landscape with waterfall in the forest by lugrin, 3) An image of beautiful sea sunrise, near Burgas Bulgaria by ivantdimov.gmail.com. All purchased from depositphotos, for use only on our website/social channels (these images are not permitted to be shared separate from this post).


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