The stink tree

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Contemplative Taoism/Daoism

Taoism is about how we perceive the world around us and what we can learn from what we see. It is not a religion nor a belief system.
This story/verse is from the The Way of Chuang Tzu (translated/interpreted by Thomas Merton). These verses were designed to stimulate insights, considerations and encourage further contemplation.
The meaning will deepen as your capacity to understand grows:

Hui Tzu said to Chuang:

I have a big tree
The kind they call a stink tree.
The trunk is so distorted,
So full of knots,
No one can get a straight plank
Out of it. The branches are so crooked
You cannot cut them up
In any way that makes sense.

There it stands beside the road.
No carpenter will even look at it.

Such is your teaching-
Big and useless.

Chuang Tzu replied:

Have you ever watched the wildcat
Crouching, watching his prey-
This way it leaps, and that way,
High and low, and at last
Lands in the trap.

But have you seen the yak?
Great as a thundercloud
He stands in his might.
Big? Sure,
He can't catch mice!
So for your big tree. No use?

Then plant it in the wasteland
In emptiness.

Walk idly around,
Rest under its shadow;
No axe or bill prepares its end.
No one will ever cut it down.

Useless? You should worry!

(Chuang Tzu)


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Page created 18 March 1997
Last updated 04 May 2023