woodworking as parable of how life is lived

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Blog entry by jlsmith5963 posted 11-23-2009 10:02 PM 1525 reads 0 times favorited 5 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A classic Chuang Tzu tale that explains how human beings actually do what we do, and live how we live, irrespective of modern rationalism’s claim to have captured all human knowledge in theory:

Duke Huan was in his hall reading a book.

The wheelwright P’ien, who was in the yard below chiseling a wheel, laid down his mallet and chisel, stepped up into the hall, and said to Duke Huan, “This book Your Grace is reading—may I venture to ask whose words are in it?”

“The words of the sages,” said the duke.

“Are the sages still alive?”

“Dead long ago,” said the duke.

“In that case, what you are reading there is nothing but the chaff and dregs of the men of old!”

“Since when does a wheelwright have permission to comment on the books I read?” said Duke Huan. “If you have some explanation, well and good. If not, it’s your life!”

Wheelwright P’ien said,
“I look at it from the point of view of my own work. When I chisel a wheel, if the blows of the mallet are too gentle, the chisel slides and won’t take hold. But if they’re too hard, it bites in and won’t budge. Not too gentle, not too hard—you can get it in your hand and feel it in your mind. You can’t put it into words, and yet there’s a knack to it somehow. I can’t teach [explain] it to my son, and he can’t learn it from me. So I’ve gone along for seventy years and at my age I’m still chiseling wheels. When the men of old died, they took with them the things that couldn’t be handed down. So what you are reading there must be nothing but chaff and dregs of the men of old.”

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

5 comments so far

View Mike Gager's profile

Mike Gager

665 posts in 3831 days

#1 posted 11-23-2009 10:52 PM

you lost me with this one lol

View degoose's profile


7264 posts in 3918 days

#2 posted 11-23-2009 11:03 PM

Very deep.
Have you read “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintainance.”

-- Don't drink and use power tools @

View littlecope's profile


3076 posts in 4066 days

#3 posted 11-23-2009 11:16 PM

Wasn’t Chuang Tze the one who dreamed he was a Butterfly, and when he awoke, he could not recall, whether he was Chuang Tze who had dreamed he was a Butterfly; or a Butterfly, dreaming he was Chuang Tze?

-- Mike in Concord, NH---Unpleasant tasks are simply worthy challenges to improve skills.

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 3912 days

#4 posted 11-23-2009 11:38 PM

Wouldn’t it be quite ironic, considering the ‘moral’ of the parable, if it would result in someone reading a book, although I think Pirsig is still alive so maybe his book isn’t full of “chaff and dregs”..... yet

It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, “Go away, I’m looking for the truth,” and so it goes away. Puzzling. Robert M. Pirsig author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

But if you are going to become Duke Huan why not start with the source:

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

View jlsmith5963's profile


297 posts in 3912 days

#5 posted 11-23-2009 11:46 PM

littlecope you are correct:

The butterfly dream
Zhuangzi dreaming of a butterfly (or a butterfly dreaming of Zhuangzi)

Another well-known part of the book, which is also found in Chapter 2, is usually called “Zhuangzi dreamed he was a butterfly” (莊周夢蝶 Zhuāng Zhōu mèng dié). Again, the names have been changed to pinyin romanization for consistency:

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)

-- criticism: the art of analyzing and evaluating the quality of an artistic work...

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