The Need To Win – 4 tales from Chuang Tzu – The Way of Chuang Tzu edited by Thomas Merton

by Mark Votava

The-Way-of-Chuang-Tzu-Merton-Thomas-97808112010321. Three In The Morning

“When we wear out our minds, stubbornly clinging to one partial view of things, refusing to see a deeper agreement between this and its complimentary opposite, we have what is called “three in the morning.”

What is this “three in the morning?”

A monkey trainer went to his monkeys and told them:

“As regards your chestnuts: you are going to have three measures in the morning and four in the afternoon.”

At this they all became angry.  So they said: “All right, in that case I will give you four in the morning and three in the afternoon.”  This time they were satisfied.

The two arrangements were the same in that the number of chestnuts did not change.  But in one case the animals were displeased, and in the other they were satisfied.  The keeper had been willing to change his personal arrangement in order to meet objective conditions.  He lost nothing by it!

The truly wise man, considering both sides of the question without partiality, sees them both in the light of Tao.

This is called following two courses at once.


2. The Lost Pearl

The Yellow Emperor went wandering

To the north of the Red Water

To the Kwan Lun mountain.  He looked around

Over the edge of the world.  On the way home

He lost his night-colored pearl.

He sent out Science to seek his pearl, and got nothing.

He sent Analysis to look for his pearl, and got nothing.

He sent out Logic to seek his pearl, and got nothing.

Then he asked Nothingness, and Nothingness had it!


The Yellow Emperor said:

“Strange, indeed: Nothingness

Who was not sent

Who did no work to find it

Had the night-colored pearl!”


3. When Life Was Full There Was No History

In the age when life on earth was full, no one paid any special attention to worthy men, nor did they single out the man of ability.  Rulers were simply the highest branches on the tree, and people were like deer in the woods.  They were honest and righteous without realizing that they were “doing their duty.”  They loved each other and did not know that this was “love of neighbor.”  They deceived no one yet they did not know that they were “men to be trusted.”  They were reliable and did not know that this was “good faith.”  They lived freely together giving and taking, and did not know that they were generous.  For this reason their deeds have not been narrated.  They made no history.


4. The Need To Win  

When an archer is shooting for nothing

He has all his skill.

If he shoots for a brass buckle

He is already nervous.

If he shoots for a prize of gold

He goes blind

Or sees two targets –

He is out of his mind!


His skill has not changed. But the prize

Divides him. He cares.

He thinks more of winning

Than of shooting –

And the need to win

Drains him of power.


Which is your favorite?

Here are some other posts I have done on Thomas Merton and his writings.