Shih the carpenter was on his way to the state of Chi. When
he got to Chu Yuan, he saw an oak tree by the village shrine. The
tree was large enough to shade several thousand oxen and was a hundred
spans around. It towered above the hilltops with its lowest branches
eighty feet from the ground. More than ten of its branches were big
enough to be made into boats. There were crowds of people as in a
marketplace. The master carpenter did not even turn his head but
walked on without stopping.
His apprentice took a long look then ran after Shih the carpenter
and said, "Since I took up my ax and followed you, master, I have
never seen timber as beautiful as this. But you do not even bother
to look at it and walk on without stopping. Why is this?"
Shih the carpenter replied, "Stop! Say no more! That tree is useless.
A boat made from it would sink, a coffin would soon rot, a tool would
split, a door would ooze sap, and a beam would have termites. It is
worthless timber and is of no use. That is why it has reached such a
ripe old age."
After Shih the carpenter had returned home, the sacred oak appeared
to him in a dream, saying, "What are you comparing me with? Are you
comparing me with useful trees? There are cherry, apple, pear, orange,
citron, pomelo, and other fruit trees. As soon as the fruit is ripe,
the trees are stripped and abused. Their large branches are split,
and the smaller ones torn off. Their life is bitter because of their
usefulness. That is why they do not live out their natural lives but
are cut off in their prime. They attract the attentions of the common
world. This is so for all things. As for me, I have been trying for
a long time to be useless. I was almost destroyed several times.
Finally I am useless, and this is very useful to me."