ZEN POEMS: “Still water” by Chuang Tzu


“Still water”


The non-action of the wise man is not inaction.

It is not studied.  It is not shaken by anything.

The sage is quiet because he is not moved,

Not because he wills to be quiet.

Still water is like glass.

You can look in it and see the bristles on your chin.

It is a perfect level;

A carpenter could use it.

If water is so clear, so level,

How much more the spirit of man?

The heart of the wise man is tranquil.

It is the mirror of heaven and earth

The glass of everything.

Emptiness, stillness, tranquility, tastelessness,

Silence, non-action: this is the level of heaven and earth.

This is perfect Tao. Wise men find here

Their resting place.

Resting, they are empty.

From emptiness comes the unconditioned.

From this, the conditioned, the individual things.

So from the sage’s emptiness, stillness arises:

From stillness, action. From action, attainment.

From their stillness comes their non-action, which is also action

And is, therefore, their attainment.

For stillness is joy.  Joy is free from care.

Fruitful in long years.

Joy does all things without concern:

For emptiness, stillness, tranquility, tastelessness,

Silence, and non-action

Are the root of all things.

~ Chuang Tzu

translation by Thomas Merton

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