Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wisdom Seen Elsewhere: Merton on Lao Tzu

On the contrary, [Lao Tzu] is trying to preach a doctrine which to Westerners seems oversubtle: that the reality of humanity and righteousness is right there in front of your nose if only you will practice them without self-conscious reflection, or self-congratulation, and without trying to explain and justify your acts by ethical theory. In other words, reflection and self-consciousness are what begin the vitiation of true moral activity, according to Lao Tzu. As soon as man becomes aware of doing good and avoiding evil, he is no longer perfectly good. Ethical rationalization makes possible that schizoid division between words and acts, between thoughts and deeds, which (as Hamlet well knew) finally reduces honest activity to complete helplessness, or else lays the way open for political or religious crooks to do all the evil they like in the name of "righteousness."

Thomas Merton in Mystics and Zen Masters (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, NYC, NY. 1967. Page 49.)

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