One day he was summoned to the house of a tax collector, who was very rich and who wanted him to carve a large number of statues in honour of his ancestors. The stonemason did a very good job, and was paid handsomely. But he was very impressed by his patron’s wealth, he admired the large palatial house, the servants who were always there to see every whim of their master, and the rich variety of the food served up all day long. In fact the more he dwelt on it the more envious he became, and he compared his own lifestyle with that of the rich man. He decided he wanted to be rich and started wondering about how to achieve this.
Now at that time in China there were many spirits, almost as many as there were people in fact, and some of them had magical powers. One of them had been following the stonemason and decided to grant him his wish. The next day the stonemason woke up and found he lived in a palace of a house, and servants were all around, bringing him water and towels for his bath and sumptuous dishes or his breakfast. The stonemason was very happy; he dressed in the finest silks and spent his days wondering about the town and the surrounding countryside.
One day he woke up to a great commotion outside in the street. A high administrator was passing through the town, accompanied by a small army of civil servants and drummers to announce his arrival. The high administrator was carried on a high chair, and as he passed all the people bowed and kowtowed to him. The stonemason had come outside and watched the procession. As the high administrator passed him he kept standing tall, why should I bow to this man? he thought. I have just as much money as he has, and just as many servants, more, in fact! But the high administrator was very angry with the stonemason for not showing the respect he felt should be accorded a man of his status, and ordered his men to arrest him. They took the stonemason outside the town and administered a beating to him, so severe that he was still lying in the dust when his servants came to find him and carried him home.
The stonemason was lying in his bed, nursing his wounds, thinking that it must be a good life to be a high administrator. I might be rich and have a lot of money, he thought, but they have all the power. He wished he could be one of them.
And behold, his friendly sprit heard his thoughts and within seconds he was changed into a high administrator. Now he travelled the country, carried in a high chair, surrounded by civil servants, drummers and soldiers. He was a very strict administrator and handed out fines and punishments everywhere. The people hated and feared him. One day he was travelling through the countryside with his entourage, in his high chair, when they saw some young girls picking flowers by the roadside. The stonemason and his servants decided hey should try to catch the girls and have some fun. When they saw the men coming towards them the girls started running and screaming at the tops of their voices. Some farmers working in the fields nearby heard the screams and came to the girls’ rescue, armed with their farm tools. They beat up the civil servants and took hold of the fancy administrator, tore his fine clothes off his body and gave him a good hiding.
As the stonemason lay in the field, nursing his wounds, he admired the spirit of these simple farmers, and decided the best thing in life must be to be one of them. Before he new what had happened, he had changed into a farmer. His spirit had obliged again. The stonemason enjoyed being a farmer. Every day he would go into the fields with the other villagers, turn the soil, sow the seeds and pull out weeds. It was very hard work but very satisfying. The only problem was the sun. The heat poured down by the sun was relentless, made him sweat and tired him out. He noticed that animals were much cleverer than men, some stayed in the shade, some, like the water buffalo, stayed in the water, only the farmers worked in their fields all day long, unable to escape the heart of that sun high up in the sky. As the weeks went by, the stonemason came to admire and respect the sun. Eventually he wished he could be the sun, and before he knew it, there he was, high up in the sky, an enormous fireball sending heat down to the earth. Now it was his turn to laugh at the little people down there he could do nothing to escape the power of his heat.
One day some enormous rainclouds came drifting by, and put themselves between the sun and the earth, stopping his heat getting down there. The stonemason was enraged, that these rainclouds dared interfere with him. He’d never before realised that they had the power to obscure the sun. So rainclouds are more powerful than the sun even, he thought, and I’m sure you can guess by now, what happened next. Yes, as soon as the thought entered the stonemason’s head, his spirit heard, and turned him into a mighty dark raincloud. He was so big and dark that the people on the earth below noticed him, and said: look at that big dark cloud. There’s a storm coming up, we’d better take shelter!
And a huge wind came rolling through the sky, pushing the clouds this way and that, tearing them apart, throwing them at the earth below. The stonemason saw all this happening from close by, and was enthralled. My, what power this storm has, he thought, nothing and nobody can hide from a storm. That’s the thing to be! His spirit was always close by, and immediately the stonemason was turned into a mighty storm, that whipped across the fields and the hills, terrorising farmers, rich men, civil servants and administrators alike. He pulled up trees, he blew down huts and houses, he blew the tiles off the roofs, he blew the water from the rivers onto the land; what fun he had! Then he came across a rocky mountainside, and he blew and he blew, but nothing moved. The rock just stood there, untouchable and immovable. That never occurred to me, the stonemason thought, that rocks are even stronger than the fiercest storm. I want to be a rock!
The spirit heard him, and there he was, our stonemason, a mighty grey rock on the mountain side, as solid as the earth itself. How beautiful, this is, he thought, how peaceful. From his position in the mountain he could observe the everchanging sky, he could see the fields below, and the farmers going about their business under the scorching sun. But he, the rock, just sat there, unchangeable, impervious to the elements.
One day he became aware of some unusual sounds, it took him by surprise somewhat, but eventually he realised that what he was hearing were human voices! He couldn’t remember the last time he’d heard a human voice, in fact during his existence as a rock, time had become totally meaningless to him. The voices belonged to some local stonemasons, who’d climbed up the mountain looking for some good solid rock that they could turn into statues and ornaments. They knocked on the surface of the rock with their hammers and picks, until they found just the right qualities they were looking for and then started to rain blows on the rock to separate it from the mountain. Our stonemason was horrified at first. How dare these people come here and disturb his peace! But then it dawned on him that however mighty and solid he was as a rock, a stonemason could always find a way to separate him from his mountain. He screamed for help, and his spirit heard him, and when he opened his eyes, he found himself back in his workshop, a chisel in one hand and a hammer in the other. For a minute he thought he could see his spirit winking at him, and he smiled as he realised how wonderful it was to be a stonemason.