The Usefulness of UselessnessPosted: May 27, 2013
One of my favorite persons of all times is a Chinese philosopher called Chuang Tzu (or Zhuangzi) who lived at around the same time as the Greek philosopher Plato (around 300 BC). Chuang Tzu is the “Dude” of the old days in China, a sort of counter-culture sage. While at his time the “good life” was all about duty, morals and charity (as postulated by Confucianism), his teachings were all about simplicity, naturalness and, first and foremost, uselessness.
One of the metaphors he often used to convey the point of the usefulness of uselessness is the “useless tree”. A tree, he says, that is all straight, perfect and standardized is usually the first one to be cut down by a carpenter. So, its usefulness sooner or later proves to be fatal as it attracts those who are looking to take advantage of its utility.
On the other hand, the crooked, wayward, capricious or outlandish tree is useless and will be overlooked. And because it will be left alone it will have the chance to grow. As it grows, it will provide ever more shade and tired travellers will start seeking it out to relax at its feet. And over time it will turn into a stunning example of natures abundant glory. It is thus that quite often a “useless tree” eventually becomes an object of sincere devotion.
What a beautiful simile for the spiritual life…
And to sum it up, here’s a Chuang Tzu quote I like:
“I cannot tell if what the world considers ‘happiness’ is happiness or not. All I know is that when I consider the way they go about attaining it, I see them carried away headlong, grim and obsessed, in the general onrush of the human herd, unable to stop themselves or to change their direction. All the while they claim to be just on the point of attaining happiness.”