The Wood Carver by Chuang Tzu

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 and 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.”

– Chuang Tzu
from The Way of Chuang Tzu by Thomas Merton


I just recently had a staff development at East Fort Worth Montessori, and it was interesting to see our administration focus on our personal aspirations and visions in relation to the universal goal of the school.The Wood Carver was one of the poems we read to reflect how we taught in the classroom or lived our lives. It was an enlightening moment that has been reoccurring lately in my life and I felt the need to share.

Before the carver set on his quest to create the bell stand, he first prepared his mind. He ‘guarded his spirit, did not expend it on trifles that were not to the point.’ Further on, he even states he forget about the prince and the court. It reminds me of how I often get caught in the trap of all the demands of the world, my administration, and my peers. Instead, I need to prepare myself for the work I do and remind myself of the single idea of gardening.

Preparing the space for Group Stretching, Meditation, and Community Cultivation

Planting Stuff at Home

With a sense of purpose instilled in his mind, the wood carver looked for a tree and saw the bell stand within it. Those stanzas leaped out at me. When I first arrived at the school, my tasks were many, they were cluttered, and unclear. By taking the time to analyze and observe the landscape, it became clear what had to be done. I could see the garden take its form, and it’s slowly becoming the reality out of the vision.

It’s hard to realize the process at times when we rush ourselves into the action of living life. Having the space for creative development is necessary to see the ‘hidden potential’ in everyday things. Slowing down, being still, and cultivating ourselves creates the living experience which inspires and instills a sense of awe in others and ourselves.