MANKIND IS BORN IN TAO: a poem from Chuang Tzu interpreted by Thomas Merton, and adapted a little

This is my slight adaption of Thomas Merton’s interpretation of a Chuang Tzu poem (which Merton based on various translations). Tzu is largely thought to be the main scribe of Taoism (some even think he made up or perpetuated the myth of Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching itself), and Merton was a devoted Trappist monk who saw great value in interfaith dialogue. He met the Dalai Lama before he died and to this day the Dalai Lama talks about the great impact they had on each other.

Note: I say my “slight adaptation” mostly because I changed the pronouns to being gender neutral (as “they” and “their” in the first person instead of “him” and “his”, and as “mankind” instead of “man” in the plural. Yes, I am something of a male feminist because to be so is to be an “equalist”). Translation and interpretation is already tricky and here I am taking what Merton did and adding to that a bit further still. The concept remains the same though, or so one would think. Taoism is a mysterious and nearly forgotten spirituality but the idea and direct feeling of the Tao as being the pure potential that permeates all things, while being of itself not a thing or an “it,” is a timeless and space-less insight. Indeed, the Tao is not even attached to being called the Tao. Perhaps if we all realized this we could be truly invincible and infinite, what is nothing and everything simultaneously cannot be destroyed after all.



Fish are born in water
Mankind is born in Tao
If fish, born in water
Seek the deep shadow
Of pond and pool
All their needs are satisfied
If mankind, born in Tao
Sinks into the deep shadow
Of non-action
To forget aggression and concern
They lack nothing
Their life is secure

Moral: “All the fish needs
Is to get lost in water
All mankind needs is to get lost
In Tao”


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