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Chuang Tzu – The material one needs

November 2, 2015

[This story was translated by Arthur Waley. I have preserved his transliteration of names. Hui Tzu was such a frequent presence in the stories of Chuang Tzu that one might think of them as fast friends, always challenging each other’s ideas. But, invariably, Chuang Tzu prevailed in their debates.]

Once when Chuang Tzu was walking in a funeral procession, he came upon Hui Tzu’s tomb, and turning to those who were with him he said, ‘There was once a wall-plasterer who when any plaster fell upon his nose, even a speck no thicker than a fly’s wing, used to get the mason who worked with him to slice it off. The mason brandished his adze with such force that there was a sound of rushing wind; but he sliced the plaster clean off, leaving the plasterer’s nose completely intact; the plasterer, on his side, standing stock still, without the least change of expression.

‘Yuan, prince of Sung, heard of this and sent for the mason, saying to him, “I should very much like to see you attempt this performance.” The mason said, “It is true that I used to do it. But I need the right stuff to work upon, and the partner who supplied such material died long ago.”

‘Since Hui Tzu died I, too, have had no proper stuff to work upon, have had no one with whom I can really talk.’

[from Arthur Waley, Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (1939)]

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