Of walden pond, a trappist monk and verbiage


Below is the response to the above Tigerchess post+comments.


11 thoughts on “Of walden pond, a trappist monk and verbiage

  1. Nigel,

    I hear what you say about Markets, equanimity and “But perhaps the idea that we can stand aside from them was an illusion from the start”.
    Here are some previous rambling thoughts relating to this:

    [Thoreau’s two-odd years living in his ‘self-built’ cabin (actually, it was bought, dismantled, hauled and reconstructed) with only his 1-2-3 chairs (1 for Solitude, 2 for Company, 3 for Society) on the banks of Walden pond, may had been little more than a quaint experiment. (*whisper: its been said that of the long daily walks he took without fail, some were to walk back to the family home for his sister’s hot dinners)
    And for periods of his -regrettably short- life, Thoreau was fortunate to be enjoying some modest patronage. So, his was a life more of an eccentric, rather than an ascetic/hermit.

    But not to take anything away from one of my favourite writer/thinker; and it may very well have been his ability to walk apart just enough from, yet retaining the utmost compassion for his fellow “mass of men lead(ing) lives of quiet desperation”, which allowed Thoreau to make his incisive and revealing observations about Man in his world.
    For indeed:
    “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


    Yes, Thomas Merton…
    While Merton may have kept faith to his Trappist vows of silence, he was certainly not ‘quiet-of-mind’ nor at a loss for words, being a most prolific writer and having penned hundreds of thousands of words+verses.
    I am jesting of course — Merton is sublime… especially his later works.

    I believe you may have read his Mystics and Zen Masters, and maybe even his paraphrase of Chuang Tzu in his The Way of Chuang Tzu (my 2nd-most favourite interpretation of all !)
    Of this chinese classic, there have been many worthy and studious translations by varied scholars, and even works bearing a more authentic and culturally textured treatment (like Lin YuTang’s); but few interpreters have approached the canonical Taoist classic with the experience of a lifetime spent in quietude and meditative self-reflection.

    While Merton’s paraphrase of this quintessential work of chinese thought is only a partial undertaking, I believe he wisely chose to leave out portions of the text where he knew he could not improve upon (due mainly to cultural context).
    And in the passages where he did work his poetics, one can sense how Merton –almost leaving language and words behind– innately and completely grasped/apprehended the essence behind the signs (signifiers) which the earlier Wayfarer reluctantly left behind.
    Merton truly *gets* Chuang Tzu…

    [To add to your renewed appreciation for your Catholic roots (with a twist of zesty zen), Merton’s years-refined ‘interior contemplation’ certainly shows his profound knowledge of the Desert Fathers and their practice of ‘going lasuach’ in dusty scetian cells. And perhaps even a deep understanding and probable practice of the Hesychastic traditions -meditative+breathing- of the Eastern Orthodox Church.]


  2. Hi Don,

    Actually I never did read the two mentioned works by Thomas Merton, even though I was aware of them. At the time, just fresh out of college, I was trying to make sense of Christianity.
    The one book by Thomas Merton which I first ran into by accident in a book store was New Seeds of Contemplation.
    It was the first time I realize that Christianity is much deeper than I had thought. One passage in the book came back to me after all these years.

    “Many poets are not poets for the same reason many religious men are not saints: they never succeed in being themselves. They never get around to being the particular poet or the particular monk they are intended to be by God. […] For many absurd reasons, they are convinced that they are obliged to become somebody else who died two hundred years ago and who lived in circumstances utterly alien to their own. They wear out their mind and body in hopeless endeavor to have somebody else’s experience or write somebody else’s poem or possess somebody else’s spirituality.”

    I later read other works by Merton, but none stayed with me as that passage. Main reason was at the time I read books mainly to gain knowledge [ I thought I was gaining wisdom :-) ]. To feed the idea I had about myself — wise/calm/cool/collected. I did not realize I was the exact people Merton was talking about :-).

    It was only through many years and several twists and turns in life, through one which I regularly attended a Zen temple and did the Koan for several years, that I finally dropped everything and started looking at myself and my own problems and started seeing everything inside of me.
    Then slowly everything came together and making sense. We always wanted someone else’s result, in hoping that having their result would solve our problems. We forget that their result came from their own struggle with their own problems. I did the Koan thinking I would get enlightenment, Buddha-nature,.I did not remember that those old patriarchs went through those with their own “doubt”, their own problem that they needed to resolve.

    People are so hooked into seeing the Buddha-nature that they forget to see their own problems, their own mundane selves. No one gets to the father except through “me” (paraphrase Jesus] :-)

    [ On the other hand, my wife said that people would throw stones if they hear my interpretation of Jesus’ saying. :-) ]

  3. roamingwind,

    Its good that you found and read New Seeds (written by Merton in his mature years) before his earlier works. It reflects his deepening understanding and insights gained with experience; experience which were not available to him in his earlier books, even if they were bestsellers (like Seven Storey). I have to say, New Seeds was also the book that made me explore Merton more fully; what he wrote on contemplation in the book is exquisite…

    Very true what you said about every person having to find his own way, to have his own authentic first-hand experience, rather than (as from your quote of Merton), “to have somebody else’s experience or write somebody else’s poem or possess somebody else’s spirituality”.
    This brings to mind the following familiar chan/zen story (which you may have worked on before in your gong-an/koan studies):

    Gutei’s Finger (or Jùzhī/倶胝 in chinese)

    Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.

    Gutei heard about the boy’s mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.

    When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. `I attained my finger-Zen,’ he said, `from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.’ Then he passed away.

    Indeed, no matter how profound and subtle a Form may be expressed, once it cleaves from its true Essence, it loses any meaning. And oftentimes holding blindly onto forms (especially other peoples’ forms) can be an obstacle; and like the boy attendant, only at the moment when he loses his hold -and finger- can he grasp at the truth.

    [Yet conversely, the other perspective remains valid; the extension of which counterbalances this seeming duality of seeing — from our own eyes or the eyes of others.
    legacydaily musing here on learning, on taking the best from the experience of others. And a rather banal comment from myself:

    And in considering gurus, hermits, vows of silence and dusty desert cells, the following provides an invaluable perspective:

    Let the stones fall where they may,

    [maybe here ?…


  4. Don,

    An idea occurs to me, that of ‘spiritual trading’. For this little game of markets involves deep self knowledge together with an understanding of how the world works. So to win at this game requires an enlightened soul.


  5. Nigel,

    Somehow it doesnt sound like a ‘little game’ at all…
    Your description above calls to mind the one and only Soros, with his alchemical trading prowess and certainly his deep understanding of the workings of the world and of himself (and maybe of the nuanced signals from his very prescient backaches…).

    Please do describe more of how such an approach may be carried out.


    [Apologies but this picture also fills the mind and stubbornly refuses to be quashed:

    A white-dhoti-clad Krishnamurti sitting serenely cross-legged in front of banks of trading screens; and having just perceived and penetrated the very structure and nature of this thought and moment and satisfied, calls out in his soft melodious voice, “Sell 500 September Bunds at market…please”.

  6. Veteran trader Joe Ross posted this on his (rather new) site:

    The Nature of the Trading Business

    by Joe Ross

    Consider the following: As a trader you are in a business. Your strongest opponent has plenty of capital. He follows a program and he does it without emotion. He is totally aware of the fact that no one knows where the next tick will fall. Whereas he usually has good insights regarding the major forces that drive the market, he does not fool himself into thinking he can explain the vagrancies of price movement intraday or even from day to day. He knows that no one truly can. The successful trader has learned his lessons by actually trading. This is a business driven by fear, greed, and selfishness, and very few worthwhile pointers are given out by the industry, other traders, or the myriad of so-called trading gurus who plague the pages of trading magazines and pages of their websites. The most valuable information is closely guarded and not often put in books or on web pages. Learning about trading is a ‘forever’ experience. As the markets change and as we adjust to them, we learn. The learning is ongoing. It stops only when you no longer trade. During the time we trade we can always improve. Trading is a great business for those who master it, and those who master it are traders who have mastered themselves.

    Trading Educators

    His words echo what GM Nigel Davies said above. The masters do think alike indeed. Respect.


    [Joe Ross’s books on trading were some of my earliest readings on trading. Masters such as he write in a simple direct way that is easily accessible yet carries plenty of weight. Only problem is, his books -large heavy and hardcover bound- are truly heavy lifting !

    (thanks to taichiseal for the reference)

  7. I also concur with Nigel’s natural instinct that one should not be outside of the world. Participating in the world but not being consumed suit my personality. It’s by participating in daily activities and interacting with people that I have the chance to see more of myself, my weaknesses.

    Anyhow, between you and Nigel, I am now curious about trading :-) . Any suggestion as to which book I can start as beginner? Maybe I can start with Joe Ross’ books?
    hm … if I become serious about trading, I’d have to less time for Chess endgames :-). Choices. Choices.

    One finger. If one does not see the finger then one is blind. If one sees only the finger one is also blind. The boy saw only the finger. Without the finger he was forced to see something else :-).

  8. Roaming Wind,

    I have lots and lots of books on markets I wouldn’t recommend. What’s worse still is that I actually read them.

    A book I read recently, ‘High Probability Trading’ by Marcel Link is one I wish I’d started with. I also quite like Greg Capra’s ‘Intra Day Trading Tactics’ DVD for which I’d be pilloried in certain circles but represents a good start for those who are visually/intuitively inclined.

    Those with a more statistical bent should study Dr Niederhoffer’s two books and then start looking at data to see if they can find any regularities, even temporary ones. Plus there are some interesting trader/educators around such as Joe Ross (as mentioned by Don) and Joe DiNapoli.


    I’m thinking about the spiritual aspect of markets and may come up with a good way to frame my currently random thoughts. At the moment I see the markets as one of the few areas in which one can still aspire to warriorhood, a way of life which involves traits that have been long forgotten in other fields. But I’ll try to do better than this.


  9. roamingwind,

    I certainly agree with what Nigel said, “I have lots and lots of books on markets I wouldn’t recommend. What’s worse still is that I actually read them.”

    I always feel at a loss when asked this question; because there is no book(s) that one can really fully endorse when it comes to a subject like trading the markets, which is essentially an ‘applied’ subject.
    And understanding your own proclivity and disposition to the markets, I think, goes a long way towards seeking out the ‘right’ material for purposeful learning about the markets.

    The only way to suggest market books is from my own individual experience, bearing in mind that it is coloured by my own background and training.
    With training in numerical and computational methods in school and my previous use of them while working in the industry, quantitative methods form an important basic part in my approach to the markets.

    My suggestion here will be, while an exhaustive study of economics and finance may not be necessary for the non-fulltime trader, an understanding of ‘arbitrage’ –both its core theories and its actual practical workings– will be very helpful.
    The following books does not deal formally with ‘arbitrage’, but includes it in their discussion of overall financial market structure. Note that these titles are in the realm halfway between college textbooks and practitioners’ references, so may be tough-going for someone not in the industry. But I find that few other books does as credible a job as this pair in equipping non-practitioners with the basic knowledge and language to ‘start’ their markets study.
    “Trading strategies for capital markets”, Joseph Benning
    “Equity markets in action: the fundamentals of liquidity, market structure & trading”, Robert A. Schwartz, Reto Francioni

    While loathe to categorize, for me market books fall roughly into two types, the main and larger type (which almost all trading books belong to) being the ‘applied’ books; which usually prescribes a certain method, style and may even designate some procedures of their methods.
    The books mentioned by Nigel and myself in the previous posts are basically ‘applied’ trading books; with Ross and DiNapoli both using essentially technical methods, and with DiNapoli employing more complicated ‘counting’ systems.

    Dr Niederhoffer’s books are certainly very instructive and as Nigel mentioned, for those more quantitative-minded and who welcome getting ‘down and dirty’ with data analysis, the books provide ample trailheads for some enjoyable numerical work. Here, an appreciation for the workings of arbitrage and some decent coding skills will come in handy.

    Marcel Link’s “High Probability Trading” is a pretty good book with a frank and no-nonsense style and I remember taking some notes from it.
    [just went to check my archived ‘Book List’: read the book in ’05 and gave it a 4/6. Not bad.]

    Hope you find this helpful; apologies if its totally irrelevant.


  10. Nigel,

    Your words on ‘spiritual trading’ and markets ‘warriorhood’ are intriguing. I look forward to hearing more of this exciting development. Thanks.


  11. Don and Nigel,

    Thanks much for your recommendations. I will first check out High Probability Trading, then will move to others if I am more interested.

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