[This is my Amazon review of Derek Lin’s The Tao of Happiness: Stories from Chuang-Tzu for Your Spiritual Journey. It’s very critical, but to my thinking the book rides roughshod over Zhuangzi’s work and makes no attempt to really understand or present his point of view.]

“If you have not yet encountered Chuang Tzu, you are in for a treat.” So opens the back cover of this book. I couldn’t agree more—only you won’t encounter him here. Lin’s dao and that of Zhuangzi are polar opposites. Though we all necessarily begin in yang (our belief in self and our desire to fulfil its wants) our first step makes all the difference. Lin steps from yang into more yang; Zhuangzi steps into yin (emptiness, not-knowing, not-doing, not-achieving, purposelessness). “Just be empty, nothing more.” Yet all the self-flourishing outcomes for which Lin advocates are likewise the fruit of the way of yin. Only they now grow by way of their having been de-coupled from their opposites so that they depend on no particular outcome. The dao of happiness is a happiness in every circumstance and is as happy in unhappiness as in happiness, and in failure as well as in success. It requires no “true self”, no meaning, no purpose, no after-life. It is non-conditional.

The spirit of Zhuangzi would have me affirm Lin’s dao as it would every other. Thus, let me say that this dao might be just the dao for you—perhaps simple self-help “wisdom” is what you’re looking for. And let us not forget that none of this matters all that much. It’s all equivalent to the “chirpings of baby birds”. No one needs to be saved, in any case.

Nevertheless, such an affirmation is especially difficult in the matter of the philosophy of Zhuangzi. Lin has so manipulated and (frankly) distorted many (if not most) of the stories he has lifted from the Zhuangzi that though they fit his own purposes, they no longer convey their intended meanings. Yet even this is acceptable, though one would wish for at least an acknowledgement of the fact.

There’s a lot of the negative in this review, but sometimes we get a better idea of what something is through exposure to what it is not. Thank you, Derek Lin. Still, I pause over the “send” button wondering especially if the title of this review won’t appear to be some kind of curse. I mean it, however, not as a curse, but as a prelude to a happy outcome. Thus, if you read this book and don’t find it meets your needs, perhaps you will be lucky enough to have the tao of this happiness fly up your nose, have a good sneeze, and be inspired to discover Zhuangzi for yourself.


  1. Picked this book up at the library just a few weeks ago (coinciDANCE!), then put it back. The lights are on but nobody’s home.

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