A carpenter went to the village and saw a great chestnut leaved oak that served as a shrine. It was huge enough to shade several thousand oxen and measured a hundred spans wide, towering above the hills. The lowest branches were eighty feet from ground and a dozen or so of them can be made into boats.
Sightseers gathered like in a fair. The carpenter did not even stop to look. His apprentice looked at it until he got tired of it, he caught up with his mentor to ask,
“Since I have followed you with my axe, I have never seen such beautiful wood. Why wouldn’t you stop and look?”
“Forget it, don’t mention it. It’s just trash, what can you do with it? A boat would sink, a coffin would rot, utensils would break, a door would seep with sap and a pillar would attract worms. It’s not a timber tree. Being useless, it can live out its life term.”
He went home and the tree appeared in his dream.
“You compared me to cultivated trees, the cherry apple, pear, orange and all the shrubs and trees that bear fruits? They are stripped, picked and abused when their fruits are ripe,. The big branches are broken off while small branches bleed with sap from the wounds. They bring on their own suffering in life. They die before living out their full term, hassled by the world. Aren’t all things alike?
I seek to be useless but I almost died. Now I’ve got my life, this is of great use to me. If I were of any use, would I have grown so big?
We are all things, why condemn others? You are a dying and worthless person, why do you have such poor understanding to call me worthless wood?” The carpenter woke up and interpreted the dream.
The apprentice asked, “If it wanted to be useless, why is it used as the shrine?”
The carpenter replied, “Hush! Not a word! It professes to be a shrine so those who do not understand would not criticize it. If it’s not a shrine, wouldn’t they cut it down? It presents itself in a different way, if we take conventional standards, we’ll be way off.”
(from Chapter 4, “Human World”, Book of Chuang Tzu)
Never judge others as Useless
The useless tree’s rebuke in the carpenter’s dream is a wake up call for man’s judgmental mind .We should not judge people with standards of our own. We don’t really know what is useful or useless. Chuang Tzu’s teaching may be considered by many as useless but ingenious and profound by others. Van Gogh was probably considered pretty useless when he was alive in his time, so was Proust or many other great people.