While wandering about the Heights of Shang, Nanbo Ziqi saw a large and extraordinary tree. Teams of thousand chariots were sheltered under it, and its shade covered them all. Ziqi said, “What a tree this is! It must be of extraordinary timber!”
When he looked up, however, at its smaller branches, they were so twisted and crooked that they could not be made into rafters and beams; when he looked down to its root, its stem was divided into so many rounded portions that neither coffin nor shell could be made from them. He licked one of its leaves, and his mouth felt torn and wounded. The smell of it would make a man frantic, as if intoxicated, for more than three whole days together.
“This, indeed,” said he, “is a tree good for nothing, and so it has attained to such a size. Ah! and spirit-like men thus acknowledge this worthlessness.”
Huizi said to Zhuangzi, “I have a large tree, which men call the Ailantus. Its trunk swells out to a large size, but is not fit for a carpenter to apply his line to it; its smaller branches are knotted and crooked, so that the disk and square cannot be used on them. Though planted on the wayside, a builder would not turn his head to look at it. Now your words, Sir, are great, but of no use – everyone will eventually forsake them.”
Zhuangzi replied, “Have you never seen a wildcat or a weasel? There it lies, crouching and low, till the wanderer approaches; east and west it leaps about, avoiding neither what is high nor what is low, till it is caught in a trap, or dies in a net. Again there is the yak, so large that it is like a cloud hanging in the sky. It is large indeed, but it cannot catch mice. You, Sir, have a large tree and are troubled because it is of no use – why do you not plant it in a tract where there is nothing else, or in a wide and barren wild? There you might saunter idly by its side, or in the enjoyment of untroubled ease sleep beneath it. Neither bill nor axe would shorten its existence; there would be nothing to injure it. What is there in its uselessness to cause you distress?”
(taken from the Inner Chapters of Zhuangzi)