In praise of uselessness

Said Hui Shih to Chuang-tzu: ‘I have a great tree, people call it the tree of-heaven. Its trunk is too knobbly and bumpy to measure with the inked line, its branches are too curly and crooked to fit compasses or L-square. Stand it up in the road and a carpenter wouldn’t give it a glance. Now this talk of yours is big but useless, dismissed by everyone alike.’

[Chuang-tzu:] ‘Haven’t you ever seen a wild cat or a weasel? It lurks crouching low in wait for strays, makes a pounce east or west as nimble uphill or down, drops plumb into the snare and dies in the net. But the yak now, which is as big as a cloud hanging from the sky, this by being able to be so big is unable to catch as much as a mouse.

Now if you have a great tree and think it’s a pity it’s so useless, why not plant it in the realm of Nothingwhatever, in the wilds which spread out into nowhere, and go roaming away to do nothing at its side, ramble around and fall asleep in its shade?

 Spared by the axe
No thing will harm it.
if you’re no use at all,
Who’ll come to bother you?’

(source:  Chuang-tzu – The Inner Chapters, translated by A C Graham)


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