The monk says “Chop chop chop”


My tree is still gnarled and old.

The Ch’an monk Deh Chun lived out in the boondocks of Tennessee during the roaring 1960s and ’70s.  There he seemed to have attracted a devoted group of university students as well as some very curious neighbors.

When Deh Chun first came to Tennessee, there was a huge dead oak in the yard beside his cabin.  One day one of his neighbors happened by and said, “You’d better cut that thing down, or one of these days it’s going to fall on your roof.”

“Oh, Thank you,” said Deh Chun. The next time he went into town he bought a hatchet at a thrift store. He promptly set to work on the tree’s enormous trunk, chopping away for some time every morning, and showing no signs of discouragement at his minimal progress. Neighbors, seeing him working day after day, showed up with chainsaws and power saws, offering to cut it down for him.

“Thank you, no,” said Deh Chun. “I do it my way.”

This went on for months, wit hsuch regularity that if his neighbors didn’t hear the steady  class=”hiddenGrammarError” pre=””>chop, chop, chop of Deh Chun on his tree on any given morning, they’d come over to make sure he was all right.  It became a phenomenon, a cause for conversation; and before too long, this strange old Chinese fellow who’d moved in from out of nowhere had become a member of the neighborhood.

On the day the tree finally fell. with a crash that shook all the houses on his street, one of Deh Chun’s friends asked him, “So what will you do now?”

“Make firewood,” answered Deh Chun.

He later said that this was the way he’d taught them meditation: you just chop away, alittle bit every day and one day an enormous tree falls.”

[from One Bird One Stone: 108 American Zen Stories by Sean Murphy]

One day the giant does fall but then begs the question  – “What now?”  Once we chop down our delusional mind we are still left with plenty to work with – there is always more work. 

The original process of chopping down the tree only served to remove the danger of delusions and illusions.  The tree was looming over the house ready to fall.  Without action (even slow and deliberate action) the tree would fall eventually and crush Deh Chun’s cabin.  Our delusions will eventually fall on us.

We all started out some place in our practice.  I started in a very similar spot.  I noticed the tree looming and wanted to prevent it from falling and causing damage so I began work on chopping it down.  chop chop chop  This is practical Buddhism – we see a danger and work to prevent it – preventive medicine.

But once the danger passes there is plenty of work still creating something positive from that fallen tree of ego.  chop chop chop We can forget that it sits there or continue to craft something that is helpful to others or ourselves.  Some practitioners stop with the fallen tree in their yard and others make it into something beautiful, useful and beneficial. 

See the tree, chop it down, build a chair and then burn it for warmth.  Sounds like a good idea to me.

No Illusions,



3 thoughts on “The monk says “Chop chop chop”

  1. Awesome. It reminds me of the story (I forget where it comes from) of the early Sangha member who could not grasp the intellectual concepts of meditation or mantra practice. The Buddha hands him a broom and told him to sweep and repeat, “sweep, sweep” with every movement of the broom.
    With this simple practice the monk achieved enlightenment.

    • Thanks, that story you speak of is “The Story of Suddhipanthaka” and I posted about it here. My inaugural post was also about that story and was a very poor rendition, indeed!

      It is also where I got the name for this blog “Sweep the Dust, Push the Dirt”. I feel very close to Suddhipanthaka.

      Thanks for the comment! Cheers!

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