Chuang Tsu on Writing

Chuang Tsu from wordThe Bible is the most translated book on the planet.  The second most translated is the Tao Te Ching authored well over two thousand years ago by Lao Tzu.  One of Lao Tzu’s most famous followers was Chang Tzu.  In the Taoist scheme of things, I think of Chang Tzu as a humorist.  His work, The Inner Chapters, has been translated countless times.

This is one of my favorite stories from The Inner Chapters I took this, version from Chang Tsu: Inner Chapters – Translated by Gia-Gu Feng and Illustrated by Jane English.

A Way of Working

Once, Chuang Tzu tells us, there was a master craftsman who made such beautiful things out of wood the the King himself demanded to know the secret of his art.
“Your Highness,” said the carpenter, “there is no secret; but there is something.  This is how I begin.  When I am about to make a table, I first collect my energies and bring my mind to absolute quietness.  I become oblivious of any reward to be gained or any fame to be acquired.  When I am free from the influences of all such outer considerations, I can listen to the inner voice which tells me clearly what I have to do.  When my skill is thus concentrated, I take up my ax; I make sure that it is perfectly sharp, that it fits my hand and swings with my arm.  Then I enter the forest.  I look for the right tree:  the tree that is waiting to become my table.  And when I find it, I ask: ‘what have I for you, what have you for me?’  Then I cut down the tree and set to work.  I remember how my masters taught me to bring my skill and my thought into relation with the natural qualities of the wood.”

The King said, “When the table is finished, it has a magical effect upon me.  I cannot treat it as I would any other table.  What is the nature of this magic?”

“Your Majesty,” said the carpenter, “what you call magic comes only from what I have already told you.”

A long time ago, I translated that story to serve me.  Today, I make my version a gift to you, from me, and from Chuang Tzu, and from Gia-Gu Feng, and from Jane English.

A Way of Writing

Once, Chuang Tzu tells us, there was a master craftsman who wrote magical books, which he created from simple truths.  The King himself demanded to know the secret of his art.
“Your Highness,” said the author, “there is no secret; but there is something.  This is how I begin.  When I am about to write a book, or a story, or even a blog post, I first collect my energies and bring my mind to absolute quietness.  I become oblivious of any reward to be gained or any fame to be acquired.  When I am free from the influences of all such outer considerations, I can listen to the inner voice which tells me clearly what I have to do.  When my skill is thus concentrated, I take up my writing tools; I make sure they are in good order, and that they work easily, like an extension of myself.  Then I enter my imagination and look for the right idea:  the idea that is waiting to become my story.  And when I find it, I ask: ‘what have I for you; what have you for me?’  Then I set to work.  I remember how my masters taught me to bring my skill and my thought into relation with the natural qualities of the idea.”

The King said, “When the story is finished, it has a magical effect upon me.  I cannot treat it as I would any other story.  What is the nature of this magic?”

“Your Majesty,” said the author, “what you call magic comes only from what I have already told you.”

 

 

 

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2 Responses to Chuang Tsu on Writing

  1. Caleb Pirtle
    Twitter:
    says:

    When I learn about a new story teller, it’s made by day, especially when he can tell such a fascinating story. Thanks for opening my eyes to one I had never read or heard of before. And that’s my fault.

  2. Bert
    Twitter:
    says:

    Jo VonBargen
    Truly sage advice, in more ways than one!! I appreciate this story, Bama!!

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