The Empty Boat

Elaine Navas

February 29 - March 30, 2024


The Empty Boat by Chuang Tzu

The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton


He who rules men lives in confusion;

He who is ruled by men lives in sorrow.

Yao therefore desired

Neither to influence others

Nor to be influenced by them.

The way to get clear of confusion

And free of sorrow

Is to live with Tao

In the land of the great Void.


If a man is crossing a river

And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,

Even though he be a bad-tempered man

He will not become very angry.

But if he sees a man in the boat,

He will shout at him to steer clear.

If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,

And yet again, and begin cursing.

And all because there is somebody in the boat.

Yet if the boat were empty,

He would not be shouting, and not angry.


If you can empty your own boat

Crossing the river of the world,

No one will oppose you,

No one will seek to harm you.


The straight tree is the first to be cut down,

The spring of clear water is the first to be drained dry.

If you wish to improve your wisdom

And shame the ignorant,

To cultivate your character

And outshine others;

A light will shine around you

As if you had swallowed the sun and the moon:

You will not avoid calamity.


A wise man has said:

“He who is content with himself

Has done a worthless work.

Achievement is the beginning of failure.

Fame is the beginning of disgrace.”


Who can free himself from achievement

And from fame, descend and be lost

Amid the masses of men?

He will flow like Tao, unseen,

He will go about like Life itself

With no name and no home.

Simple is he, without distinction.

To all appearances he is a fool.

His steps leave no trace. He has no power.

He achieves nothing, has no reputation.

Since he judges no one

No one judges him.

Such is the perfect man:

His boat is empty.