The Story of the Stone Cutter

The traditional tale of the stone cutter who travels through the bodies of both people and elemental forces, uncovering a deep universal truth...

There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and his position in life. One day, on his way to work, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house, pausing for a moment to take a longer look. Through the open gateway he saw many things – fine possessions, important visitors, business being conducted – and he grew jealous, unable to keep himself from wishing for all this powerful man had.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, falling into his mind and body in an instant. All at once, he knew this man’s innermost thoughts and feelings, possessed all of his memories, and felt the joy of having the many luxuries that life had afforded him. He knew the pleasure of holding such a high social standing that he was loved and respected by many people, while envied and reviled by many more.

Soon after, however, a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair and accompanied on all sides by attendants, soldiers and servants beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession.

Watching this, he knew he’d been mistaken about the level of the merchant’s success and, without a moment’s notice, he moved into the body of the high official, lounging in the embroidered chair, high and mighty and fat and feared. He knew then how it felt to be both exalted and detested, not only by the community, but by everyone in the kingdom; how it felt to hold the power to end a man’s life or to make him rich; what it was like to meet with sultans and high kings from other lands, indulging in exotic pleasures of all kinds.

Yet it was a hot summer day, and after a time he began to feel very uncomfortable in his overweight body, stuck as it was in his slow-moving seat in the sky. He looked up at the sun, the sweat from his brow staining his vision, and thought about how completely unaffected by his presence it was, beating down on him in all its furious glory. And then, in that same moment, he became it, shining fiercely down on the earth, bringing life and warmth and strength to all the living things on the planet.

He remained like this, blasting his light, until a massive black stormfront began to gather beneath him, diminishing the reach and strength of his rays and roiling with a fury that soon burst into a driving and vicious rain.

Seeing this, he became the cloud. He felt the incredible power of its force, flooding the fields and villages and sending people fleeing for their lives, and he thought: There is no thing in nature stronger than the storm. I cannot be beaten.

Soon, however, he came to realize that he was being controlled by yet another force – that the strength of the rain would be nothing without the wind, howling and furious as it was – and he became it, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, tipping over carts and wagons and vendors’ street displays.

Yet after a while he felt himself run up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering rock – and when he became it, more powerful than anything else on earth, solid and dense and ancient, he knew with certainty that no other element could challenge his incredible authority.

After a time, however, he began to hear a sound— a small, seemingly insignificant noise, wafting up on the wind to greet him with an almost eerie peacefulness.

“…chink, chink, chink…”

“…chink, chink, chink…”

He felt himself being changed – cut into, re-formed – and he looked down. Far below him, hammer and chisel in hand, was the figure of a stone cutter.