Khing, the master woodcarver, made a bell stand
Of precious wood. When it was finished,
All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be the work of spirits.
The Prince of Lu said to the master carver:
“What is your secret?”
Khing replied, “I am only a workman.
I have no secret. There is only this:
When I began to think about the work you commanded
I guarded my spirit. I did not expend it
On trifles, that were not to the point.
I fasted in order to
Set my heart at rest.
After three days fasting,
I had forgotten gain and success.
After five days,
I had forgotten praise and criticism.
After seven days
I had forgotten my body
With all its limbs.
By this time al thought of your Highness
And of the court had faded away.
Al that might distract me from the work
I was collected in the single thought of the bell stand.
Then I went into the forest
To see the trees in their own natural state.
When the right tree appeared before my eyes,
The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond
All that I had to do was to put forth my hand
If I had not met this particular tree
There would have been
No bell stand at all.
My own collected though
Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;
From this live encounter came the work
Which you ascribe to the spirits.”
Merton, Thomas (1965 & 2004) The Way of Chuang Tzu Boston & London: Shambhala.
Chuang Tzu, one of the great figures of early Taoism, lived around 300 BCE. The frontispiece of this edition says: “He used parables and anecdotes, allegory and paradox, to illustrate that real happiness and freedom are found only in understanding Tao or Way of nature, and dwelling in its unity. The respected Trappist monk Thomas Merton spent several years reading and reflecting on four different translations of the Chinese classic that bears Chuang Tzu’s name. The result is this collection of poetic renderings of the great sage’s work.