It takes two hands to clap. For better or worse, usually at least two parties are involved. How much can we do alone? From business to anything about life, things happen only when people get together. Father and Mother, Husband and Wife…likewise in cultivating our life, the essence is helping someone in trouble or give him joy….Anything for the self is only selfish act.


Tao Living

The Axe

by Derek Lin


The emissary returned to the palace and reported that he completed his
routine task of message delivery to the neighboring kingdoms. "Excellent,"
the king approved. "While you were traveling, did you see or hear about
anything interesting?"


"Yes, Your Majesty. Many days ago, in the Kingdom of Ying, I stopped at a
country inn to have supper and saw a most extraordinary martial arts demonstration.

"The inn was undergoing renovation, so there were many workers around.
One of them, an old carpenter, was a bit careless and got some lime on his
nose. It was just a tiny bit of lime, as thin as the wing on a fly. But still, it was
unsightly and distracting. I thought he would simply wipe it off, but he called
out to one of the masons and said, 'Hey, want to practise your special skill?'


"The mason said, 'Sure!' He looked happy as he brought out a large axe.
He hefted it and waved it around. I saw this and could not help but wonder -
what were these two planning to do with such a fearsome weapon?


"After a few more practice swings, he asked the carpenter: 'Ready?'


"The carpenter smiled casually and replied, 'Whenever you are.'

He seemed completely at ease, which only increased my puzzlement and curiosity.
The mason concentrated and suddenly swung the axe. I jumped, completely
surprised, because I thought he would surely chop his friend's head off.


The carpenter did not move at all. The axe passed right in front of him.
The lime was gone but his nose was completely unharmed. His expression
was composed, his breathing was normal, and he seemed just as relaxed as before.


"I could not believe it, Your Majesty. I had never witnessed such an amazing
display of axe wielding skill."


"Incredible!" The king exclaimed. "I want you to find the mason and bring
him to me. I must see this for myself."


The emissary embarked on his new mission. He returned to the country inn and
found the mason. After some effort and persistence, he was able to talk the mason
into returning to the palace with him.

As soon as they reached the palace, the emissary took the mason to the king.
"You must be the legendary axe master," the king said. "I have heard about
your special skill. You are able to remove a thin coating of lime from another
man's nose without harming him. Is this true?"

"Yes, Your Majesty. I have practiced that skill for years."

"Excellent," said the king. "I want you to perform it for me. If you can do it,
I shall reward you most handsomely."

The mason seemed hesitant: "I am sorry, Your Majesty, I... I cannot do it."

"What? You are not interested in my rewards?"

"Yes, Your Majesty, but I can only do it with my partner, the carpenter."

"Oh, I see. Why didn't you say so? We will simply have to bring him here."

"That is not possible, Your Majesty." There was a note of infinite sadness in
the mason's voice. "My partner has passed away. I am afraid... the special skill...
is lost forever."

By now, we have enough experience with Chuang Tzu's stories to realize that this
story is also not what it appears to be. Chuang Tzu is once again using symbols and
metaphors to describe an essential aspect of humanity.

The axe represents the interaction of human beings. This covers all the different ways
we communicate with one another - verbally, physically, mentally, and so on. An easy
way for us to understand this is to think of the axe as the words we use.

Just as the axe has sharp edges, our words have the ability to hurt. When we engage each
other in conversation, it is as if we are swinging axes around. One wrong move and we
can wound someone's pride, offend people inadvertently, or perhaps criticize the
other person without meaning to.

For the sake of safety, most of the time we keep our axes covered up. We use polite phrases
and politically correct words to wrap around the sharp edges of the axe. Although this works
well in social situations, our protective measures can also get in the way when we wish to
communicate openly, directly and honestly.


The carpenter called his performance with the mason a special skill. This is because personal
communication is imprecise, so it can be very difficult to get it right. Words mean different
things to different people at different times, and their intended meaning can be further modified
by tonality, gestures and facial expressions. When we think about the many ways misunderstanding
can occur, it seems like a miracle that personal communication works at all. And when it does
work well, when we achieve nearly perfect understanding with other human beings, it is indeed
very special.

This specialty happens when we spend time with good friends and loved ones. In their presence,
we can set aside social etiquettes. We can speak plainly and rest easy in the knowledge that
our intentions will be completely understood. Just as the mason felt happy and the carpenter
felt relaxed as they were getting ready to perform, the mere thought of this comfortable
communication is uplifting to the spirit. Think back to the last good conversation you had
with someone close to you. Chances are the memory will bring a smile to your lips.

This means we are all like the carpenter and the mason when we connect with the people we
care about. A kind of magic happens when we establish rapport and form a direct soul-to-soul
connection. Through such a connection, they know what we are thinking and we know
their thoughts. They can complete your sentence and you can anticipate what they are about
to say. It's almost telepathic, but there is nothing supernatural about it. It's a plain, simple,
everyday miracle.

There are three essential ingredients to make this miracle happen. The first is affinity. It is a rare
and precious thing that does not automatically manifest itself when you meet someone. For most
of us, it is the exception rather than the rule to find others who are in tune with us. When the
carpenter passed away, the mason could not find anyone to replace him. In just the same way,
those who possess a natural affinity with us play a special role in our lives. If we think we can
discard them and easily find someone else, we will be very much mistaken.

The second ingredient is time. It takes time to really get to know someone. The mason and the
carpenter have practiced their special skill over many years. In the same way, we need to nurture
a friendship or a relationship over the long haul, with much time spent together and many shared
experiences. Natural affinity is a good foundation - but it won't do us much good unless we build on it.

The third and most important ingredient is trust. Complete, absolute trust is what the mason and
the carpenter demonstrated. The carpenter knew the mason would swing the ax with unfailing
accuracy; the mason trusted that the carpenter would not make sudden moves to ruin the
performance or hurt himself. In this spirit of trust, both sides must come together.

In the same way, trust is also the most important ingredient in personal communication.
If trust is not present, you can exercise the utmost caution in choosing every word carefully
and still fail to convey your meaning. If the other party does not trust you, then every word
you say is suspect and open to the most negative interpretation, and any attempts to explain
or clarify may result in even greater problems.

When trust is present, it trumps everything else. Even when you can't think of the right words
and you stutter badly, it doesn't matter. They'll tell you: "It's okay, we know what you mean.
We know what you are trying to say." And you realize they actually do - because of the
wonderful trust that exists.

The emissary said he could not believe the performance, and the king exclaimed that it was
incredible. This represents the improbability of having affinity, time and trust all come together
in our interactions with others. If you already have people in your life with whom you share all
three ingredients, then you should see them as an almost unbelievable blessing.

What would happen if you were to lose these special people in your life? What would happen
if you should lose the magical ingredient of affinity or trust? Just like the mason grieving the
passing of his partner, we would also experience a loss of infinite sadness. It would be like an
empty void in the heart. We might realize, too late, how joyous it was when there was someone
to fill that void. We might regret having taken them for granted.

This is the ultimate message that Chuang Tzu wants to convey with this story: let us not wait
until it is too late. Think about your good friends and loved ones. Consider the incredible good
fortune to have them in your life and see your deep connection with them for what it truly is - magic.

Let them know how you feel. Tell them how happy you are to be able to relax in their presence;
tell them you appreciate being so comfortable and perfectly at ease with them whenever you connect.
Thank them for being your partner all these years; thank them for practicing the special skill with
you so many times - each time an astounding performance all by itself!

If they haven't read this story, they probably won't know exactly what you are talking about. But
that's okay. They will know what you mean. They will know what you are trying to say. And then
you will witness this simple understanding... as an incredible miracle of the Tao.