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The Woodcarver

"The Woodcarver" by Thomas Merton, from The Way of Chuang Tzu, copyright (C) 1965 by The Abbey of Gethsemani. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp.

Khing, the master carver, made a bell stand

Of precious wood. When it was finished,

All who saw it were astounded. They said it must be

The work of spirits. The prince of Lu said to the master carver:

"What is your secret?"


Khing replied: "I am only a workman:

I have no secret. There is only this:

When I began to think about the work you commanded

I guarded my spirit, did not expend it

On trifles, that were not to the point.

I fasted in order to set my heart at rest.

After three days fasting,

I had forgotten gain or success.

After five days, I had forgotten praise or criticism.

After seven days I had forgotten my body with all its limbs.

"By this time all thought of your Highness

And of the court had faded away.

All that might distract me from the work

Had vanished.

I was collected in the single thought

Of the bell stand.

"Then I went to the forest

To see the trees in their own natural state.

When the right tree appeared before my eyes,

The bell stand also appeared in it, clearly, beyond doubt.

All I had to do was to put forth my hand

And begin.

"If I had not met this particular tree

There would have been

No bell stand at all.

"What happened?

My own collected thought

Encountered the hidden potential in the wood;

From this live encounter came the work

Which you ascribe to the spirits."

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Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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