The Usefulness of Uselessness

Aug 13, 2017 | Tao du Jour

“A craftsman going to the state of Ch’i came to a certain mountain and saw an enormous tree at a shrine there. That tree was so big that thousands of oxen could stand in its shade. Its trunk was so thick that it would take a hundred people to reach around it. It was so high it faced on the mountains; the first branches were seven thousand feet up. Dozens of those branches were themselves massive enough to be made into boats.

Although there were so many tourists looking at the great tree that they could have filled a city, the craftsman paid it no mind and went on his way without stopping.

One of the craftsman’s apprentices gazed at the tree for a long while, then ran to catch up with the master. The apprentice said, “since the day I took up my ax to follow you, I have never seen such fine material as this. Yet you won’t even look at it, but just pass it by. Why?”

(Photos courtesy of Pixabay and Pexels)

The master craftsman said, “stop! Don’t say it! That is an unemployable tree. A boat made from it would sink; a coffin made from it would rot. An implement made from it would quickly fall apart. If used for a door, it would dribble sap. If used for pillars, it would be eaten by insects. This is a tree that does not produce lumber; none of it can be used.” That is why it has been able to get so old.”

After the craftsman got home, the spirit of the shrine of the great tree appeared to him in a dream and said: “with what do you compare me? Do you compare me to a domesticated tree?”

“Those who belong to the category of fruit-bearing trees, bushes, and vines are stripped and denuded when their fruits ripen, big branches broken and small branches torn off. These are the ones [whose lives are made] miserable by their abilities. Because of this, they do not live out their natural years, but die untimely deaths on the way. They are the ones who get themselves struck down by the conventional world.”

“Everyone is like this, so I have sought to be unexploitable. Now I have finally attained it after having been near death, and it is of great use to me. If I were to be usable, could I have gotten this big?”

There is a place in the state of Sung where the conditions are right for several varieties of trees known for their straight trunks. Those of a certain size are cut by people looking to make stakes to tie monkeys. Larger ones are cut by people looking for imposing house frames. Yet larger ones are cut by people looking for material to make coffins for nobles and rich merchants. Therefore, those trees never fulfill their natural age, but succumb to the ax along the way.

This is the trouble with usefulness.”

Chuang Tzu, Book 4 – The Human World, translated by Thomas Cleary

 

 

The Usefulness of Uselessness

Aug 13, 2017 | Tao du Jour

A craftsman going to the state of Ch’i came to a certain mountain and saw an enormous tree at a shrine there. That tree was so big that thousands of oxen could stand in its shade. Its trunk was so thick that it would take a hundred people to reach around it. It was so high it faced on the mountains; the first branches were seven thousand feet up. Dozens of those branches were themselves massive enough to be made into boats.

Although there were so many tourists looking at the great tree that they could have filled a city, the craftsman paid it no mind and went on his way without stopping.

One of the craftsman’s apprentices gazed at the tree for a long while, then ran to catch up with the master. The apprentice said, “since the day I took up my ax to follow you, I have never seen such fine material as this. Yet you won’t even look at it, but just pass it by. Why?”

(Photo courtesy of Pixabay)

The master craftsman said, “stop! Don’t say it! That is an unemployable tree. A boat made from it would sink; a coffin made from it would rot. An implement made from it would quickly fall apart. If used for a door, it would dribble sap. If used for pillars, it would be eaten by insects. This is a tree that does not produce lumber; none of it can be used.” That is why it has been able to get so old.”

After the craftsman got home, the spirit of the shrine of the great tree appeared to him in a dream and said: “with what do you compare me? Do you compare me to a domesticated tree?”

“Those who belong to the category of fruit-bearing trees, bushes, and vines are stripped and denuded when their fruits ripen, big branches broken and small branches torn off. These are the ones [whose lives are made] miserable by their abilities. Because of this, they do not live out their natural years, but die untimely deaths on the way. They are the ones who get themselves struck down by the conventional world.”

“Everyone is like this, so I have sought to be unexploitable. Now I have finally attained it after having been near death, and it is of great use to me. If I were to be usable, could I have gotten this big?”

There is a place in the state of Sung where the conditions are right for several varieties of trees known for their straight trunks. Those of a certain size are cut by people looking to make stakes to tie monkeys. Larger ones are cut by people looking for imposing house frames. Yet larger ones are cut by people looking for material to make coffins for nobles and rich merchants. Therefore, those trees never fulfill their natural age, but succumb to the ax along the way.

This is the trouble with usefulness.”

Chuang Tzu, Book 4 – The Human World, translated by Thomas Cleary

(Photos courtesy of Pixabay)

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