Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Big Oak Tree and a Philosopher

Zhuangzi was an ancient philosopher who lived around the third century BC. He was one of the founders of Taoism, along with Laozi. His style of delivering his principles and ideas was a little different from that of other philosophers. He did not leave any written records explaining his philosophy. Instead, he left many stories that contain significant and profound meanings. From the written records that do exist, he seems to have been a naturalist. His stories tell us a lot about nature and natural features, such as a tree, an insect, a fish, a bird, or a spirit. He uses trees several times in his stories to teach people the true nature of existence. A mahogany tree appears in several of his stories, but for this story he used an oak tree.

In one part of ancient China there was a gigantic oak tree. The tree was so immense that 100 cows could stand under its shade. The trunk was so thick that 200 people would not be enough to encircle it. A lot of people came to see the tree every day from sheer curiosity. A carpenter and his disciples lived nearby, but the master carpenter did not pay any attention to the oak tree. One of the disciples asked his master why he did not cut the tree down and build houses; after all, the tree could be used to build hundreds of houses. The master answered that the tree was useless because it was too old and too hard to cut and craft.

The best thing to do was to leave it alone.

The oak tree appeared in the master's dreams that night. The tree asked; "How dare you call me useless?" It then mentioned how other oak trees were cut and killed by human beings to build houses, ships, or furniture, and to serve people's selfish reasons and purposes. "Being useless was useful for me as it meant I could survive." The oak tree pointed out that, despite its uselessness to human beings, it had been useful in providing nests for birds and insects. Its leaves, falling down in autumn, gave nutrition to the land and grew other trees, plants, and flowers. The oak tree finished by saying: "Do not judge usefulness only by the measures of human beings. Nature is not only for human beings. Human beings should not forget that they survive only thanks to nature."

The carpenter woke up the next morning and thought about what the oak tree had said. He talked with other villagers and decided to make the oak tree a subject of worship as a part of their local religion.

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