1. YOUNG-MASON, JEANINE EdD, RN, CS, FAAN, Column Editor

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The Way of Chuang Tzu is Thomas Merton's interpretative reading of the writings of the Chinese Taoist philosopher, Chuang Tzu (250 bc). Chuang Tzu's writings, according to Merton, are like all great philosophical thoughts; they go to the heart of things. Merton's readings of Chuang Tzu are presented in story form. Collectively they reveal "the way" of being in harmony with nature through humor, gossip, and irony.


In particular, "The Joy of Fishes" illustrates through a conversation between Chuang Tzu and Hui Tzu how differently 2 people think about nature and life. One man thinks concretely, the other, Chuang, finds kindred spirits in nature and views life through this kindredness. It is impossible for Hui to imagine what Chuang intuitively knows, but it is also evident that Hui realizes that he has missed something important and that he truly wants to know.


The 2 men are crossing the Hao River by the dam, and Chuang points out how happy the fish are leaping about. Hui asks him how he could possibly know what makes fishes happy because he is not a fish. Chuang points out that Hui cannot know that he does not know because he is not him.


Chuang realizes that by asking, "How do you know what makes fishes happy?" Hui believes that he does know.


And Chuang replies:


I know the joy of fishes


In the river


Through my own joy, as


I go walking Along the same river.1


In any meeting of professionals, one finds many ways of thinking, systems of belief, and habits of thought, each having its own origin and evolution through early learning, education, acculturation to a profession, and many other variables. It is surprising, if not astounding, that people can arrive at a consensus for action when habits of mind and systems of belief are so varied. The ability to question one another and to dialogue about crucial issues can only occur when each individual is open to the other's way of thinking. It is perhaps hardest of all for those who require hard data to make a decision to appreciate those who think intuitively as does Chuang. The failure to do this is evident in many institutions, families, and communities, and it is the cause of needless strife.




1. Merton T. The Way of Chuang Tzu. New York: New Directions Publishing Corp; 1965:98. [Context Link]