The Stone Cutter (Indian Folktales – 6)


There was once a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.

One day, he passed a wealthy merchant’s house and through the open gateway saw many fine possessions and important visitors. “How powerful that merchant must be!” thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.

To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. “How powerful that official is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a high official!”

Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed. It was a hot summer day, and the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. “How powerful the sun is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the sun!”

Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and labourers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. “How powerful that storm cloud is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a cloud!”

Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. “How powerful it is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be the wind!”

Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it — a huge, towering stone. “How powerful that stone is!” he thought. “I wish that I could be a stone!”

Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock and felt himself being changed. “What could be more powerful than I, the stone?” he thought. He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone-cutter.

We don’t know the extent of our own personal power. And, sometimes, the most insignificant seeming people among us are those most able to effect great change.

Author: Benjamin Hoff (The Tao Of Pooh)

The Three Advices (Irish Folktales – 3)


There once came, what of late has happened so often in Ireland, a hard year. When the crops failed, there was beggary and misfortune from one end of the island to the other. At that time many poor people had to quit the country from want of employment, and through the high price of provisions. Among others, John Carson was under the necessity of going over to England, to try if he could get work; and of leaving his wife and family behind him, begging for a bite and a sup up and down, and trusting to the charity of good Christians.

John was a smart young fellow, handy at any work, from the hay field to the stable, and willing to earn the bread he ate; and he was soon engaged by a gentleman. The English are mighty strict upon Irish servants; he was to have twelve guineas a year wages, but the money was not to be paid until the end of the year, and he was to forfeit the entire twelve guineas in the lump, if he misconducted himself in any way within the twelve months. John Carson was to be sure upon his best behavior, and conducted himself in every particular so well for the whole time, there was no faulting him late or early, and the wages were fairly his.

The term of his agreement being expired, he determined on returning home, notwithstanding his master, who had a great regard for him, pressed him to remain, and asked him if he had any reason to be dissatisfied with his treatment.

“No reason in life, sir,” said John; “you’ve been a good master and a kind master to me; the Lord spare you over your family; but I left a wife and two small children of my own at home, after me in Ireland, and your honor would never wish to keep me from them entirely, the wife and the children.”

“Well, John,” said the gentleman, “you have earned your twelve guineas, and you have been, in every respect, so good a servant, that, if you are agreeable, I intend giving you what is worth the twelve guineas ten times over, in place of your wages. But you shall have your choice. Will you take what I offer, on my word”?

John saw no reason to think that his master was jesting with him, or was insincere in making the offer; and, therefore, after a slight consideration, told him that he agreed to take for his wages whatever he would advise, whether it was the twelve guineas or not.

“Then listen attentively to my words,” said the gentleman. “First, I would teach you this: Never to take a by-road when you have the highway. Secondly: Take heed not to lodge in the house where an old man is married to a young woman. And thirdly: Remember that honesty the best policy. These are the three advices I would pay you with; and they are in value far beyond any gold; however, here is a guinea for your traveling charges, and two cakes, one of which you must give to your wife, and the other you must not eat yourself until you have done so, and I charge you to be careful of them.”

It was not without some reluctance on the part of John Carson that he was made to accept mere words for wages, or could be persuaded that they were more precious than golden guineas. His faith in his master was, however, so strong, that he at length became satisfied.

John set out for Ireland the next morning early; but he had not proceeded far, before he overtook two pedlars who were traveling the same way. He entered into conversation with them, and found them a pair of merry fellows, who proved excellent company on the road. Now it happened, towards the end of their day’s journey, when they were all tired with walking, that they came to a wood, through which there was a path that shortened the distance to the town they were going towards, by two miles. The pedlars advised John to go with them through the wood; but he refused to leave the highway, telling them, at the same time, he would meet them again at a certain house in the town where travelers put up.

John was willing to try the worth of the advice which his master had given him, and he arrived in safety, and took up his quarters at the appointed place. While he was eating his supper, an old man came hobbling into the kitchen, and gave orders about different matters there, and then went out again. John would have taken no particular notice of this, but immediately after, a young woman, young enough to be the old man’s daughter, came in, and gave orders exactly the contrary of what the old man had given, calling him, at the same time, such as old fool, and old dotard, and so on.

When she was gone, John inquired who the old man was.

“He is the landlord,” said the servant; “and, heaven help him! A dog’s life has he led since he married his last wife.”

“What,” said John, with surprise, “is that young woman the landlord’s wife? I see I must not remain in this house tonight;” and, tired as he was, he got up to leave it, but went no further than the door before he met the two pedlars, all cut and bleeding, coming in, for they had been robbed and almost murdered in the wood. John was very sorry to see them in that condition, and advised them not to lodge in the house, telling them, with a significant nod that all was not right there; but the poor pedlars were so weary and so bruised, that they would stop where they were, and disregarded the advice.

Rather than remain in the house, John retired to the stable, and laid himself down upon a bundle of straw, where he slept soundly for some time. About the middle of the night, he heard two persons come into the stable, and on listening to their conversation, discovered that it was the landlady and a man, laying a plan how to murder her husband. In the morning John renewed his journey; but at the next town he came to, he was told that the landlord in the town he had left had been murdered and that two pedlars, whose clothes were found all covered with blood, had been taken up for the crime, and were going to be hanged. John, without mentioning what he had overheard to any person, determined to save the pedlars if possible, and so returned, in order to intend their trial.

On going into the court, he saw the two men at bar, and the young woman and the man whose voice he had heard in the stable, swearing their innocent lives away. But the judge allowed him to give his evidence, and he told every particular of what had occurred. The man and the young woman instantly confessed their guilt; the poor pedlars were at once acquitted; and the judge ordered a large reward to be paid to John Carson, as through his means the real murderers were brought to justice.

John proceeded towards home, fully convinced of the value of two of the advices which his master had given him. On arriving at his cabin he found his wife and children rejoicing over a purse full of gold, which the eldest boy had picked up on the road that morning. Whilst he was away they had endured all the miseries which the wretched families of those who go over to seek work in England are exposed to. With precarious food, without a bed to lie down on, or a roof to shelter them, they had wandered through the country, seeking food from door to door of a starving population; and when a single potato was bestowed, showering down blessings and thanks on the giver, not in the set phrases of the mendicant, but in the burst of eloquence too fervid not to gush direct from the heart. Those only who have seen a family of such beggars as I describe, can fancy the joy with which the poor woman welcomed her husband back, and informed him of the purse full of gold.

“And where did Mick my boy, find it,” inquired John Carson.

“It was the young squire, for certain, who dropped it,” said his wife, “for he rode down the road this morning, and was leaping his horse in the very gap where Micky picked it up; but sure, John, he has money enough, besides, and never the halfpenny have I to buy my poor childer a bit to eat this blessed night.”

“Never mind that,” said John. “Do as I bid you, and take up the purse at once to the big house, and ask for the young squire. I have two cakes which I brought every step of the way with me from England, and they will do for the children’s supper. I ought surely to remember, as good right I have, what my master told me for my twelvemonths’ wages, seeing I never, as yet, found what he said to be wrong!”

“And what did he say,” inquired the wife.

“That honesty is the best policy,” answered John.

“‘Tis very well; and ’tis mighty easy for them to say so that have never been sore tempted by distress and famine to say otherwise, but your bidding is enough for me, John.”

Straightways she went to the big house, and inquired for the young squire; but she was denied the liberty to speak to him.

“You must tell me your business, honest woman,” said the servant, with a head all powdered and frizzled like a cauliflower, and who had on a coat covered with gold and silver lace and buttons, and everything in the world.

“If you knew but all,” said she, “I am an honest woman, for I’ve brought a purse full of gold to the young master; for surely it is his; as nobody else could have so much money.”

“Let me see it,” said the servant. “Ay, it’s all right. I’ll take care of it. You need not trouble yourself any more about the matter;” and so saying, he slapped the door in her face.

When she returned, her husband produced the two cakes which his master gave him on parting; and breaking one to divide between his children, how was he astonished to find six guineas, in it; and when he took the other and broke it, he found as many more. He then remembered the words of his generous master, who desired him to give one of the cakes to his wife, and not to eat the other himself until that time; and this was the way his master took to conceal his wages, lest he should have been robbed, or have lost the money on the road.

The following day, as John was standing near his cabin door and turning over in his own mind what he should do with his money, the young squire came riding down the road. John pulled off his hat, for he had not forgotten his manners through the means of traveling to foreign parts, and then made so bold as to inquire if his honor had got the purse he lost.

“Why, it is true enough, my good fellow,” said the squire, “I did lose my purse yesterday, and I hope you were lucky enough to find it; for if that is your cabin, you seem to be very poor, and shall keep it as a reward for your honesty.”

“Then the servant at the big house never gave it to you last night, after taking it from Nance — she’s my wife, your honor — and telling her it was all right?”

“Oh, I must look into this business,” said the squire.

“Did you say your wife, my poor man, gave my purse to a servant — to what servant?”

“I can’t tell his name rightly,” said John, “because I don’t know it; but never trust Nance’s eye again if she can’t point him out to your honor, if so your honor is desirous of knowing.”

“Then do you and Nance, as you call her, come up to the hall this evening, and I’ll inquire into the matter, I promise you.” So saying, the squire rode off.

John and his wife went up accordingly in the evening, and he gave a small rap with the big knocker at the great door. The door was opened by a grand servant, who, without hearing what the poor people had to say, exclaimed, “Oh, go! — go! what business can you have here?” and shut the door.

John’s wife burst out a crying. “There,” said she, so sobbing as if her heart would break. “I knew that would be the end of it.”

But John had not been in old England merely to get his twelve guineas packed in two cakes. “No,” said he, firmly; “right is right, and I’ll see the end of it.”

So he sat himself down on the steps of the door, determined not to go until he had seen the young squire, and as it happened, it was not long before he came out.

“I have been expecting you for some time, John,” said he; “come in and bring your wife in;” and he made them go before him into the house. Immediately he directed all the servants to come up stairs; and such an army of them as there was! It was a real sight to see them.

“Which of you,” said the young squire, without making further words, “which of you all did this honest woman give my purse to?” but there was no answer. “Well I suppose she must be mistaken, unless she can tell herself.”

John’s wife at once pointed her finger towards the head footman; “there he is,” said she, “if all the world were in the fore — clergyman, magistrate, judge, jury and all. There he is, and I am ready to take my bible-oath to him. There he is who told me it was all right when he took the purse, and slammed the door in my face, without as much as thank ye for it.”

The conscious footman turned pale.

“What is this I hear?” said his master. “If this woman gave you my purse, William, why did you not give it to me?”

The servant stammered out a denial; but his master insisted on his being searched, and the purse was found in his pocket.

“John,” said the gentleman, turning round, “you shall be no loser by this affair. Here are ten guineas for you; go home now, but I will not forget your wife’s honesty.”

Within a month John Carson was settled in a nice new-slated house, which the squire had furnished and made ready for him. What with his wages, and the reward he got from the judge, and the ten guineas for returning the purse, he was well to do in the world, and was soon able to stock a little farm, where he lived respected all his days. On his deathbed, he gave his children the very three advices which his master had given him on parting:

Never to take a by-road when they could follow the highway.

Never to lodge in a house where an old man was married to a young woman.

And, above all, to remember that honesty is the best policy.

Compiled by D.L.Ashliman

The Tiger’s Whisker (Wisdom, Korean Folktales-1)


Once upon a time, a young wife named Yun Ok was at her wit’s end. Her husband had always been a tender and loving soulmate before he had left for the wars but, ever since he returned home, he was cross, angry, and unpredictable. She was almost afraid to live with her own husband. Only in glancing moments did she catch a shadow of the husband she used to know and love.

When one ailment or another bothered people in her village, they would often rush for a cure to a hermit who lived deep in the mountains. Not Yun Ok. She always prided herself that she could heal her own troubles. But this time was different. She was desperate.

As Yun Ok approached the hermit’s hut, she saw the door was open. The old man said without turning around: “I hear you. What’s your problem?”

She explained the situation. His back still to her, he said, “Ah yes, it’s often that way when soldiers return from the war. What do you expect me to do about it?”

“Make me a potion!” cried the young wife. “Or an amulet, a drink, whatever it takes to get my husband back the way he used to be.”

The old man turned around. “Young woman, your request doesn’t exactly fall into the same category as a broken bone or ear infection.”

“I know”, said she.

“It will take three days before I can even look into it. Come back then.”

Three days later, Yun Ok returned to the hermit’s hut. “Yun Ok”, he greeted her with a smile, “I have good news. There is a potion that will restore your husband to the way he used to be, but you should know that it requires an unusual ingredient. You must bring me a whisker from a live tiger.”

“What?” she gasped. “Such a thing is impossible!”

“I cannot make the potion without it!” he shouted, startling her. He turned his back. “There is nothing more to say. As you can see, I’m very busy.”

That night Yun Ok tossed and turned. How could she get a whisker from a live tiger?

The next day before dawn, she crept out of the house with a bowl of rice covered with meat sauce. She went to a cave on the mountainside where a tiger was known to live. She clicked her tongue very softly as she crept up, her heart pounding, and carefully set the bowl on the grass. Then, trying to make as little noise as she could, she backed away.

The next day before dawn, she took another bowl of rice covered with meat sauce to the cave. She approached the same spot, clicking softly with her tongue. She saw that the bowl was empty, replaced the empty one with a fresh one, and again left, clicking softly and trying not to break twigs or rustle leaves, or do anything else to startle and unsettle the wild beast.

So it went, day after day, for several months. She never saw the tiger (thank goodness for that! she thought) though she knew from footprints on the ground that the tiger – and not a smaller mountain creature – had been eating her food. Then one day as she approached, she noticed the tiger’s head poking out of its cave. Glancing downward, she stepped very carefully to the same spot and with as little noise as she could, set down the fresh bowl and, her heart pounding, picked up the one that was empty.

After a few weeks, she noticed the tiger would come out of its cave as it heard her footsteps, though it stayed a distance away (again, thank goodness! she thought, though she knew that someday, in order to get the whisker, she’d have to come closer to it).

Another month went by. Then the tiger would wait by the empty food bowl as it heard her approaching. As she picked up the old bowl and replaced it with a fresh one, she could smell its scent, as it could surely smell hers.

“Actually”, she thought, remembering its almost kittenish look as she set down a fresh bowl, “it is a rather friendly creature, when you get to know it.” The next time she visited, she glanced up at the tiger briefly and noticed what a lovely downturn of reddish fur it had from over one of its eyebrows to the next. Not a week later, the tiger allowed her to gently rub its head, and it purred and stretched like a house cat.

Then she knew the time had come. The next morning, very early, she brought with her a small knife. After she set down the fresh bowl and the tiger allowed her to pet its head, she said in a low voice: “Oh, my tiger, may I please have just one of your whiskers?” While petting the tiger with one hand, she held one whisker at its base and, with the other hand, in one quick stroke, she carved the whisker off. She stood up, speaking softly her thanks, and left, for the last time.

The next morning seemed endless. At last her husband left for the rice fields. She ran to the hermit’s hut, clutching the precious whisker in her fist. Bursting in, she cried to the hermit: “I have it! I have the tiger’s whisker!”

“You don’t say?” he said, turning around. “From a live tiger?”

“Yes!” she said.

“Tell me”, said the hermit, interested. “How did you do it?”

Yun Ok told the hermit how, for the last six months, she had earned the trust of the creature and it had finally permitted her to cut off one of its whiskers. With pride she handed him the whisker. The hermit examined it, satisfied himself that it was indeed a whisker from a live tiger, then flicked it into the fire where it sizzled and burned in an instant.

“Yun Ok”, the hermit said softly, “you no longer need the whisker. Tell me, is a man more vicious than a tiger? If a dangerous wild beast will respond to your gradual and patient care, do you think a man will respond any less willingly?”

Yun Ok stood speechless. Then she turned and stepped down the trail, turning over in her mind images of the tiger and of her husband, back and forth. She knew what she could do.

Korean Fable – Retold by Elaine L. Lindy (2006)

The Prince who found Wisdom (Indian Folktales – 1)


There was once a king who had an only son and the king was always urging his son to learn to read and write in order that when he came to his kingdom he might manage well and be able to decide disputes that were brought to him for judgment; but the boy paid no heed to his father’s advice and continued to neglect his lessons. At last when he was grown up, the prince saw that his father was right and he resolved to go away to foreign countries to acquire wisdom; so he set off without telling anyone but his wife, and he took with him a purse of money and three pieces of gold. After traveling a long time, he one day saw a farmer ploughing his field and he went and got some tobacco from him and asked him whether there were any wise men living in that neighborhood.

“What do you want with wise men?” asked the farmer.

The prince said that he was traveling to get wisdom. The farmer said that he would give him instruction if he were paid.

Then the prince promised to give him one gold piece for each piece of wisdom.

The farmer agreed and said. “Listen attentively! My first maxim is this: You are the son of a king; whenever you go to visit a friend or one of your subjects and they offer you a bedstead, or stool, or mat to sit on, do not sit down at once but move the stool or mat a little to one side; this is one maxim: give me my gold coin.”

So the prince paid him.

Then the farmer said, “The second maxim is this: You are the son of a king; whenever you go to bathe, do not bathe at the common bathing place, but at a place by yourself; give me my coin,” and the prince did so.

Then he continued, ” My third maxim is this: You are the son of a king; when men come to you for advice or to have a dispute decided, listen to what the majority of those present say and do not follow your own fancy, now pay me;” and the prince gave him his last gold coin, and said that he had no more.

“Well,” said the farmer, “Your lesson is finished, but still I will give you one more piece of advice free and it is this: You are the son of a king; restrain your anger, if anything you see or hear makes you angry, still do not at once take action; hear the explanation and weigh it well, then if you find cause you can give rein to your anger and if not, let the offender off!”

After this the prince set his face homewards as he had spent all his money; and he began to repent of having spent his gold pieces on advice that seemed worthless. However on his way he turned into a bazaar to buy some food and the shopkeepers on all sides called out, “Buy, buy,” so he went to a shop and the shopkeeper invited him to sit on a rug; he was just about to do so when he remembered the maxim of his instructor and pulled the rug to one side; and when he did so he saw that it had been spread over the mouth of a well and that if he had sat on it he would have been killed; so he began to believe in the wisdom of his teacher.

Then he went on his way and on the road he turned aside to a tank to bathe, and remembering the maxim of his teacher he did not bathe at the common place but went to a place apart; then having eaten his lunch he continued his journey, but he had not gone far when he found that he had left his purse behind, so he turned back and found it lying at the place where he had put down his things when he bathed; thereupon he applauded the wisdom of his teacher, for if he had bathed at the common bathing place, someone would have seen the purse and have taken it away.

When evening came on he turned into a village and asked the headman to let him sleep in his balcony, and there was already one other traveler sleeping there and in the morning it was found that the other traveler had died in his sleep. Then the headman consulted the villagers and they decided that there was nothing to be done but to leave the body outside the village, and that as the prince was also a traveler he should do it.

At first he refused to touch the corpse as he was the son of a king, but the villagers insisted and then he bethought himself of the maxim that he should not act contrary to the general opinion; so he yielded and dragged away the body, and threw it into a ravine. Before leaving it he remembered that it was proper to remove the clothes, and when he began to do so he found round the waist of the body a roll of coin; so he took this and was glad that he had followed the advice of his teacher.

That evening he reached the boundary of his own territory and decided to press on home although it was dark; at midnight he reached the palace and without arousing anyone went to the door of his wife’s room. Outside the door he saw a pair of shoes and a sword; at the sight he became wild with rage and drawing the sword he called out, “Who is in my room?”

As a matter of fact the prince’s wife had got the prince’s little sister to sleep with her, and when the girl heard the prince’s voice she got up to leave; but when she opened the door and saw the prince standing with the drawn sword she drew back in fear; she told him who she was and explained that they had put the shoes and sword at the door to prevent anyone else from entering; but in his wrath the prince would not listen and called to her to come out and be killed. Then she took off her cloth and showed it to him through the crack of the door and at the sight of this he was convinced; then he reflected on the advice of his teacher and repented, because he had nearly killed his sister through not restraining his wrath.