Monday, August 29, 2011


by Scott Bradley

"Who can free himself from achievement and fame,
Descend an be lost amid the masses of men?
He will be like Tao, unseen.
He will go about like Life itself, with no name and no home."

I have often quoted this adaptation of Zhuangzi by Thomas Merton (The Way of Chuang Tzu; "The Empty Boat") and do so now from fallible memory. It never fails to inspire me, word-perfect or not.

When we think of achievement we tend, most likely, to think of small successes. A diploma. A good job. Promotion. Wealth. Prestige. Or, if we have an artistic bent, we might think of creative accomplishments. If our focus is 'spiritual', then we might somehow measure 'attainments' in that sphere along with the designations of sage, reverend, roshi, or guru. We are to free ourselves of attachment to all these achievements.

But none of these is "achievement". Achievement in the singular is something far more fundamental than its fruits. Its roots go to the very depths of what motivates us. Or, looking from the bottom up, achievement is a vivid expression of our relentless endeavor to become someone. And this is why, to be free of it, is to be "lost amid the masses of men". It is to be "unseen", "with no name and no home". It is to be nobody.

Merton ends this chapter thus: "Such is the perfect man; his boat is empty."

I intended this post to follow-up on the previous one in which I spoke of our reality being Reality and thus of the folly of believing we must change to be it. Achievement is this belief. We are It. Now. There is nothing to achieve.

Perhaps it's too violent an expression, but it keeps rising up: Break the back of these tyrannies: the tyranny of right and wrong, the tyranny of reason, the tyranny of the need to become. The view from the other shore is incomprehensibly different from that ruled by these tyrannies.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.


  1. The great goal, I believe, of all Taoists is to become anonymous and then to disappear altogether

  2. Very good points. It is an excellent verse by Chuang and I also really like Merton's renderings.


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