Carpenter Shih and the Majestic Oak Tree

Photo by Zan Azahiro

Came across this intriguing story in Chuang Tzu’s “The Tao of Nature” (rewritten for brevity):

Carpenter Shih saw an oak tree which was revered as the game of the spirits of the land.

The trunk was so vast that a thousand cows could hide behind it. It soared up for eighty feet before it put out branches, and the branches were so thick that boats could be crafted from any one of them.

It was a majestic tree. Many people came to see it, and they would admire the oak tree, gasping in admiration.

Carpenter Shih, however, was unfazed. He turned and walked his way.

Intrigued, his apprentice asked:

“Master, ever since I apprenticed with you, I have never seen a tree as magnificent as this. But you wouldn’t stop to glance at it once. Why?”

Carpenter Shih answered:

“The tree is useless. Make a boat from it, and it would sink. Make furniture and it would break quickly. Make a pillar and it will snap.

Why do you think it has lived for so long? The wood is useless.

This oak tree is an altar for a reason. Once people realize that it is useless, it will be chopped off.”