Zen Story: The Stonecutter

Once upon a time there was a stonecutter. Each day he went up to the mountains to cut stones. And
while he worked he sang, for though he was a poor man, he desired no more than he had, so he had not a care in the world.

One day he was called to work on the mansion of a nobleman. When he saw the magnificence of the mansion, he experienced the pain of desire for the first time in his life and he said with a sigh, “If only I were rich! Then I would not have to earn my living in sweat and toil as I do now.”

Imagine his astonishment when he heard a voice say, “Your wish has been granted. Henceforth, anything you desire will be given to you.”

He did not know what to make of the words till he returned to his hut that evening and found in its place a mansion as magnificent as the one he had been working on. So the stonecutter gave up cutting stones and began to enjoy the life of the rich.

One day when the afternoon was hot and humid, he happened to look out his window and saw the King
go by with a large retinue of noblemen and slaves. He thought, “How I wish I were a King myself, sitting in the cool of the royal carriage!”

His wish was promptly carried out and he found himself reclining in the comfort of the royal carriage. But the carriage turned out to be warmer than he had assumed it to be. He looked out of the carriage window and began to marvel at the power of the sun, whose heat could penetrate even the thick walls of the carriage. “I wish I were the sun,” he said to himself.

Once again his wish was granted and he found himself sending out waves of light and heat into the universe.

All went well for a while. Then on a rainy day, he attempted to pierce through a thick bank of clouds and could not. So he got himself changed into a cloud and glorified in his power to keep the sun away — till he turned into rain and found, to his annoyance, a mighty rock that blocked his path so he was obliged to flow around it.

“What?” he cried. “A mere rock more powerful than I? Well, then I wish to be a rock.” So there he was standing tall upon a mountainside. He barely had time to rejoice in his fine figure, however, when he heard strange clipping sounds proceeding from his feet. He looked down and, to his dismay, found a tiny human being sitting there engaged in cutting chunks of stone from his feet.

“What?” he shouted. “A puny creature like that more powerful than an imposing rock like me? I want to be a man!” So he found he was once again a stonecutter going up into the mountain to cut stone, earning his living in sweat and toil but with a song in his heart because he was content to be what he was and to live by what he had.

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