Woodworker Stone and the Gigantic Tree



A woodworker named Stone travelled to State Qi and saw a gigantic oak tree inside a temple for the god of earth. The tree was large enough to shade thousands of oxen. It was a hundred spans around and rose as high as a mountain, its lowest branches some eighty feet above the ground, and dozens of them were large enough to be hollowed out into boats. Sightseers were packed in like at the marketplace but Stone barely gave it a glance, continuing along his way without stop for a moment. His apprentices all had a good look at the tree, and then ran to catch up.

They said, “Since we picked our axes to follow you, Master, we have never seen such beautiful material. You hardly looked at it and went on by. How can this be?”


“Enough!” Stone cried. “That wood is trash, and no good for anything. That’s why it has grown so old. Make a boat from it, and the boat will sink. For coffins, it rots fast. Make a pillar, and it will attract worms.”

At night, this tree appeared in his dream and told Stone, “Have you seen enough of the miserable lives of those useful trees? When the fruit is ripe, they are stripped and peeled. Big branches break off, and the little ones drip sap from wounds. Their lives are cut short by you guys using axes and saws. It is the sad truth for all things in the world. That’s why I have striven so long to master the arts of uselessness, and it is useful for me. If I were of any use, there would not have been any chance for me to be living now. We are both things. Why pass judgement? Are you mere trash? Why call me trash?” (Chuang Tzu Chapter 4)
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