May 13, 2009

Guest Blogger: Chuang Tzu

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m taking a little breather today so I’ve invited one of my favorite bloggers, a beautiful guy all the way from China in 300 BC, to sit in my chair instead. I’m talking about Chuang Tzu, that awesome parable-speaker and explicator of the Tao, and if he doesn’t mind me saying so, let’s face it, he’s a lot more fun than the Old Man himself. So Chuang –- or should I call you Tzu? -– what have you got for us today? Don’t tell me it’s the one about how you dreamed you were a butterfly and then when you woke up you didn’t know if you were Chuang Tzu dreaming he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Chuang Tzu.

“No, young man, I – “

Because I have to tell you, that’s like a fantastic story but we’ve all heard –

“I know. I’m sick of it myself. Been telling it for 2300 years, time to take it off the set list. No, today I’ve got ‘Owl and Phoenix.’”

Owl and Phoenix? Sounds profound. Very oriental, if you know what I mean. So the owl and the phoenix – I can do plots, listen to this – the owl and the phoenix are like hot for each other, and –

“No, this is a spiritual tale.”

Okay, we’ll give it a shot anyway. How long does it –

“It’s two tiny pages in those little Shambhala editions that you can stick into your phone pocket with room for a three-pack of Magnum Ecstasies to spare. Don’t worry, it won’t tax your attention span. The book is The Way of Chuang Tzu, translated by Thomas Merton (yeah, him). Here goes:

“Hui Tzu was Prime Minister of Liang province. He had what he believed to be inside information that Chuang Tzu coveted his post and was intriguing to supplant him. In fact, when Chuang Tzu visited Liang, the Prime Minister sent out the police to arrest him. The police searched for Chuang Tzu for three days and nights, but meanwhile he presented himself before Hui Tzu of his own accord, and said:

Have you heard about the bird
That lives in the south,
The Phoenix that never grows old?

This undying Phoenix
Rises out of the South Sea
And flies to the Sea of the North,
Never alighting

Except on certain sacred trees.
He will touch no food
But the most exquisite
Rare fruit,
Drinks only
From clearest springs.

Once an owl,
Chewing a dead rat
Already half-decayed,
Saw the Phoenix fly over,
Looked up,
And screeched with alarm,
clutching the rat to himself
In fear and dismay.

Why are you so frantic
Clinging to your ministry
And screeching at me
In dismay?”

Wow, Chuang Tzu, man, amazing. That phoenix. He’s up there, and the owl thinks he’s after his half-decayed chewed-up rat. Dude, that’s the story of my life. How did you know?

[confused] “Which one did you think you were?”

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