The Ox Mountain Parable

by Meng Tzu (Mencius) 385 – 302 BC


Master Meng said: There was once a fine forest on the Ox Mountain,
Near the capital of a populous country.
The men came out with axes and cut down the trees.
Was it still a fine forest?
Yet, resting in the alternation of days and nights, moistened by dew,
The stumps sprouted, the trees began to grow again.
Then out came goats and cattle to browse on the young shoots.
The Ox Mountain was stripped utterly bare.
And the people, seeing it stripped utterly bare,
Think that the Ox Mountain never had any woods on it at all.


Our mind too, stripped bare, like the mountain,
Still cannot be without some basic tendency to love.
But just as men with axes, cutting down the trees every morning,
Destroy the beauty of the forest,
So we, by our daily actions, destroy our right mind.

Day follows night, giving rest to the murdered forest,
The moisture of the dawn spirit [or wind]
Awakens in us the right loves, the right aversions.

With the actions of one morning we cut down this love,
And destroy it again. At last the night spirit [or wind]
Is no longer able to revive our right mind.

Where, then, do our likes and dislikes differ from those of the animals?
In nothing much.
Men see us, and say we never had in us anything but evil.
Is this man's nature?


Whatever is cultivated rightly, will surely grow.
Whatever is not cultivated rightly must surely perish.
Master Kung (Confucius) said:
Grasp it firmly and you will keep it.
Grasp it loosely, and it will vanish out of your hand.
Its comings and goings have no fixed times:
No one knows its country!

Of man's right mind, of this only does he speak!

Translated from the Chinese by I. A. Richards