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In ancient times there was an old woodcutter who went to the mountain almost every day to cut wood. It was said that this old man was a miser who hoarded his silver until it changed to gold, and that he cared more for gold than anything else in all the world.
One day a wilderness tiger sprang at him and though he ran he could not escape, and the tiger carried him off in its mouth. The woodcutter's son saw his father's danger, and ran to save him if possible. He carried a long knife, and as he could run faster than the tiger, who had a man to carry, he soon overtook them.
His father was not much hurt, for the tiger held him by his clothes. When the old woodcutter saw his son about to stab the tiger he called out in great alarm,
"Don't spoil the tiger's skin! Don't spoil the tiger's skin! If you can kill him without cutting holes in his skin we can get many pieces of silver for it. Kill him, but do not cut his body."
While the son was listening to his father's instructions the tiger suddenly dashed off into the forest, carrying the old man where the son could not reach him, and he was killed.
In the time of King Mu of Chou, there was a magician who came from a kingdom in the far west. He could pass through fire and water, penetrate metal and stone, overturn mountains and make rivers flow backwards, transplant whole towns and cities, ride on thin air without falling, encounter solid bodies without being obstructed. There was no end to the countless variety of changes and transformations which he could effect; and besides changing the external form, he could also spirit away men's internal cares.
King Mu revered him as a god and served him like a prince. He set aside for his use a spacious suite of apartments, regaled him with the daintiest of food, and selected a number of singing-girls for his express gratification. The magician, however, condemned the king's palace as mean, the cooking as rancid, and the concubines as too ugly to live with.
So king Mu had a new building errected to please him. It was built entirely of bricks and wood, and gorgeously decorated in red and white, no skill being spared in its construction. The five royal treasuries were empty by the time that the new pavilion was complete. It stood six thousand feet high, overtopping Mount Chung-nan, and it was called Touch-the-sky Pavilion. Then the king proceeded to fill it with maidens, selected from Cheng and Wie, of the most exquisite and delicate beauty. They were anointed with fragrant perfumes, provided with jewelled hairpins and earrings, and arrayed in the finest silks, with costly satin trains. Their faces were powdered, and their eyebrows pencilled, their girdles were studded with precious stones, and sweet scents were wafted abroad wherever they went. Ravishing music was played to the honoured guest by the Imperial bands; several times a month he was presented with fresh jewelled raiment; every day he had set before him some new and delicious food.
The magician could not well refuse to take up his abode in this palace of delight. But he had not dwelt there very long when he invited the king to accompany him on a jaunt. So the king clutched the magician's sleeve, and soared up with him higher and higher into the sky, until at last they stopped, and lo! they had reached the magician's own palace. This palace was built with beams of gold and silver, and incrusted with pearls and jade. It towered high above the region of clouds and rain, and the foundations whereon it rested were unknown. It appeared like a stupendous cloud-mass to the view. The sights and sounds it offered to eye and ear, the scents and flavours which abounded there, were such as exist not within mortal ken. The king verily believed that he was in the Halls of Paradise, tenanted by God himself, and that he was listening to the mighty music of the spheres. He gazed at his own palace on the earth below, and it seemed to him no better than a rude pile of clods and brushwood.
The king would gladly have stayed in this palace for decade after decade, without a thought for his own country. But the magician invited him to make another journey, and in the new region they came to, neither sun nor moon could be seen in the heavens above, nor any rivers or seas below. The king's eyes were dazed by the quality of the light, and he lost the power of vision; his ears were stunned by the sounds that assailed them, and he lost the faculty of hearing. The framework of his bones and his internal organs were thrown out of gear and refused to function. His thoughts were in a whirl, his intellect became clouded, and he begged the magician to take him back again. Thereupon, the magician gave him a shove, and the king experienced a sensation of falling through space. . . .
When he awoke to consciousness, he found himself sitting on his throne just as before, with the selfsame attendants round him. He looked at the wine in front of him, and saw that it was still full of sediment; he looked at the viands, and found that they had not yet lost their freshness. He asked where he had come from, and his attendants told him that he had only been sitting quietly there.
This threw King Mu into a reverie, and it was three months before he was himself again. Then he made further inquiry, and asked the magician to explain what had happened.
"Your Majesty and I," answered the magician, "were only wandering about in the spirit, and our bodies never moved at all."
[From a story by Yu Hsiung, a Taoist Sage]
People of Southern China used to train elephants and teach them to do many useful things. They worked for farmers and woodcutters, and helped make the roads twice a year; for an elephant could do many times more work than any other animal. So wise were the elephants that people came to believe they could see even into the hearts of men.
A judge named Ko-Kia-Yong had a wise old elephant that was trained to do this wonderful thing, it was said. Three cases which were brought before him, were decided by the elephant. And this is how one such decision was made:
A man came before the judge and said that some robbers had been in his house during the night and had taken his gold and jewels all that he had; and he asked the judge to find and punish the thieves.
In three months, five robbers had been found. When they were brought to the judge, they bowed before him and each one said, "I have never stolen anything."
The man and woman who had been robbed were called. And the woman said, "That man with the long grey hair is the one who robbed us."
The judge asked, "Are you sure it is he, and how do you know?"
She answered, "Yes, I remember. He took the bracelet from my arm and I looked into his face."
"Did the other four rob you also?" asked the judge.
The woman answered, "I do not know."
But the judge said, "The man who you say is a robber, seems not like one to me. His face is kind and gentle. I cannot decide according to your testimony. I know of but one way to find out, and we shall soon know the truth in this matter. My elephant shall be brought in to examine the men. Those who are not guilty need have no fear."
Four of the men looked glad.
They were stripped and stood almost naked before the judge and the law, and the elephant was brought in.
Then the judge said to the elephant, "Examine these men and tell us which is the robber." The elephant touched with his trunk each of the five accused men, from his head to his feet.
And the white-haired man and the three others stood still and laughed at the elephant with happy faces, for they knew in their hearts they were not guilty and they thought the elephant knew. But the fifth man shivered with fear and his face changed to many colours. While the elephant was examining him, the judge said, "Do your duty," and rapped loudly. The elephant knocked him softly with his trunk, and he confessed at once.
Then the judge said to the four guiltless men, "You may go." And to the woman he said, "Be careful whom you accuse." Then he said to the elephant, "Food and water are waiting for you. I hope you may live a long time and help me to judge wisely."
After this many wise men who were not superstitious went to the judge and said:
"An elephant cannot read the heart and mind of man. How could an elephant read the heart of man, a thing which man, himself, cannot do? Please explain."
And Ko-Kio-Yong, the wise judge, laughed and said, "My elephant eats and drinks as other elephants do. It is a belief among our people that he can read the hearts of men. The honest believe it and have no fear if they have done no wrong. Thieves, on the other hand, get fearful and confess rather easily in front of him."
Confucius had a son-in-law, Kung Yeh Chang, who understood birds. He built a pavilion in his garden, which was rich in flowers, trees, shrubs, and ponds, so that the birds loved to gather there. Thus he was able to spend many delightful hours near them, watching.
One day while Kung Yeh Chang was resting in his pavilion, a small housesparrow lit in a tree near-by and started to sing and chatter. A little later a wild goose dropped down by the pond for a drink. Hardly had he taken a sip when the little sparrow called out, "Who are you? Where are you going?"
To this the goose did not reply and the sparrow became angry and asked again, "Why do you consider me beneath your notice?" and still the goose did not answer. Then the little sparrow became furious and said in a loud, shrill voice, "Again I ask, who are you? Tell me or I will fly at you," and he put his head up, and spread his wings, and tried to look very large and fierce.
By this time the goose had finished drinking, and looking up he said, "Don't you know that in a big tree with many branches and large leaves the cicadas love to gather and make a noise? I could not hear you distinctly. You also know the saying of the ancients, 'If you stand on a mountain and talk to the people in the valley they cannot hear you,' "and the wild goose took another drink.
The little sparrow chattered and sputtered, shook his wings, and said, "What, for example, do you know of the great world? I for my part can go into people's houses, hide in the rafters under their windows, see their books and pictures, what they have to eat and what they do. I can hear all the family secrets. I know all that goes on in the family and state. I know who are happy and who are sad. I know all the quarrels and all the gossip, and I know just how to tell it to produce the best effect. So you see that I know much that you can never hope to know."
"It may be good to give others an equal chance with ourselves, or even to give them the first choice," said the goose. "We geese therefore fly in a flock in the shape of the letter V and take turns in flying first. No one takes advantage of the other. We have our unchanging customs of going north in the spring and south in the winter. People come to depend on us, and make ready for either their spring work or the cold of winter. Thus, we stay away from gossip and are a help to man.
"You sparrows, however, gossip and only thinking of your own good. Now, we are respected. Is there not a proverb that 'There are many people without the wisdom and virtues of the wild goose'? You sparrows, however, chatter about small affairs beneath my notice and I bid you good-day."
The sparrow now trembled with so much rage that she could not fly away nor keep her hold on the branch. She fell to the ground and soon died from the fall.
Kung Yeh Chang exclaimed after he had looked on it all, "Sad, sad, most of mankind are like the sparrow, but the truly superior man is somehow like the wild goose, and wiser still."
Wu-Kiao was a professor in a large Chinese university, and a very proud and learned man. Hundreds of students were under his teaching, and many thousands honored him. When he went out of his house, five people followed, singing and playing the drum all the way down the street, and eight men carried his chair. At home he had six servants about him. During each meal, thirty dishes were served at his table.
The professor was a great man. Through his wisdom and out of his deep knowledge, he explained a lot of questions to the people.
One day Wu-Kiao sat in the shade of a tree in his garden. He turned his head and saw a watermelon lying on the ground, nearly covered with its green leaves. Then, seeing the fig tree with many figs on it, he said, "I think the Creator should have made the melon grow on this tree."
He touched the tree and said, ''How strong you are; you could bear larger fruit like the watermelon." And he said to the vine, "You, so thin and small, should bear small fruit like the fig. Things are not well ordered. Mistakes are made in creation."
Just then a fig dropped from the tree on his nose, and he was a little bruised. He shook his head and said, "I was wrong. If the fig tree bore fruit as large as the watermelon and dropped it on my nose, I think I should be killed. It would be a dangerous tree to all people."
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