Hashnu the Stonecutter, A Japanese Story

Hashnu the Stonecutter sat beside the highway cutting stone. It was hard work, and the sun shone hot upon him.

“Ah me!” said Hashnu, “if one only did not have to work all day. I would that I could sit and rest, and not have to ply this heavy mallet.

Just then there was a great commotion, and  Hashnu saw a crowd of people coming up the road. When they drew nearer he noticed that one of them was the King. On his right side rode soldiers, all arrayed in armor and ready to do his bidding, while on the left rode courtiers, seeking to serve him and win his favor.

And Hashnu, watching, thought what a fine thing it would be to be a King, and to have soldiers to do his bidding, and courtiers to serve him, and he said:

“Ah me, ah me,
If Hashnu only a King could be.”

At once he heard a voice say: “Be thou the King.”

Then in a moment Hashnu found that he was no longer the stonecutter, sitting beside the highway with a heavy mallet in his hand, but the King, dressed in armor, riding in the midst of soldiers and courtiers, and all about him doing homage.

He rode very proudly for a while, and his subjects bowed low before him. But the armor was heavy, and the helmet pressed hard upon his brow, and his head throbbed with the weight of it. He was indeed weary and faint with the heat, because, though a King, the sun beat hot upon him!

And he said to himself: “Lo, I am the King, and yet the sun can make me faint and weary. I had thought that to be a King was to be stronger than anything else, but the sun is stronger than the King!”

And as they rode further, and the sun still beat hard upon him, he said:

“Ah me, ah me,
If Hashnu only the sun could be!”

Then he heard a voice say: “Be thou the sun.”

And in a moment he was no longer the King, riding among his courtiers, but the sun, blazing high in the heavens, shining hot upon the fields and the meadows. As he did not know how to shine, he allowed his rays to fall too fiercely upon the world, and grass and grain were dried up and withered, and men lamented because of the cruelty of the heat. But Hashnu thought he was doing great things, and was very proud, until a cloud came between him and the earth, so that his rays no longer fell upon the fields and the cities of men.

And Hashnu said: “Lo, I am the sun, and my rays fell upon the fields and the cities, and all acknowledge my power. But the cloud is stronger than the sun, for it shuts off my rays from the earth.”

Then, because the cloud would not go, but became heavier and blacker, Hashnu lamented, and said:

“Ah me, ah me,
If Hashnu only the cloud could be.”

And in a moment he was no longer the sun, shining fiercely upon the earth, but the cloud, riding in the sky, shutting off the rays of the sun, and pouring rain upon the fields and the meadows, filling the rivers and the streams to overflowing. But he did not know how to let down the rain wisely, and it fell too heavily, and the rivers rose high and destroyed the fields and the cities, and the meadows were turned into swamps, and the grain rotted in the ground, and the wind blew, and trees were uprooted, and houses fell before it. But Hashnu cared for none of these things, for he thought he was doing very finely indeed.

But as he looked down upon the earth he saw that a rock beside the highway stood unmoved and firm, for all of his raining and blowing. And he said: “For all I am strong, and can blow down trees and destroy cities, and can pour my waters upon the earth and flood the fields and the meadows, yet does that rock defy my power. I, Hashnu, would be stronger than the rock!”

But the rock was unchanged, and Hashnu, lamenting, said:

“Ah me, ah me,
If Hashnu only the rock could be!”

Then he heard a voice say: “Be thou the rock.”

And in a moment he was no longer the cloud, with the wind blowing hard, and pouring water upon the earth, but the rock, fixed and unmoved beside the highway. Now, at last, he felt that he was stronger than all. But even as he rejoiced, he felt the sharp point of a stonecutter’s chisel, and heard the sound of his heavy mallet striking upon its head. Then he knew that, though the water had fallen upon the rock and been unable to change it, and the wind had blown hard against it and had no effect, yet would the stonecutter change and alter it, and make it take whatever shape he desired. And he said:

“Ah me, ah me,
If Hashnu only the stonecutter could be!”

And he heard a voice say: “Be thou thyself.”

Then Hashnu found himself again sitting beside the highway with a chisel in his hand, and  a mallet on the ground beside him, and the rock before him. And the King had gone by, and the rays of the sun were now shadowed by the cloud, from which no rain fell, but only a grateful shade. And Hashnu said:

“The sun was stronger than the King, the cloud was stronger than the sun, the rock was stronger than the cloud, but I, Hashnu, am stronger than all.”

And so he worked on, now well content to do each day his added task.