O NCE upon a time there lived a stone cutter who, every morning, hastened with his mallet and chisel to hew slabs of rock from the mountain side and polish them smooth for houses. He was so skilled a workman that there was always plenty for him to do, and he was happy and content.
But one day, when he carried a finely polished block of stone to the house of a rich man, he saw all sorts of beautiful things—such as he had never dreamed of. "Oh!" he cried, "I wish I were rich. I wish I might sleep in a bed as soft as down, with silk curtains and gold tassels about my head." Then he picked up his tools and started home, but the mountain spirit had heard his wish. Instead of the poor little hut he had left in the morning, there stood a wonderful palace, as full of beautiful furniture as the rich man's house, and the stone cutter slept that night upon a bed as soft as down, with silk curtains and gold tassels about his head.
When it came daylight he decided not to work any more, and he peeped out of his window to see who might be going by. As he watched, a fine carriage whirled along, drawn by snow-white horses. There were servants running in front and behind, and a prince sat inside the carriage with a golden umbrella stretched over his head.
At once the stone cutter began to feel discontented again. "Oh!" he said, "I wish I were a prince. I want to ride in a carriage with a golden umbrella held over my head."
And no sooner had he wished it than it came to pass—he was a prince; he had servants dressed in scarlet and gold, and he drove through the streets with a golden umbrella held above him to keep off the sun. So, for a little while, he was happy; but, one day, he went out to his garden and he saw that the sun was drying the grass, in spite of all the water he had ordered to be put on it.
"The sun is mightier than I!" he cried. "I would be the sun."
Again the mountain spirit heard him—the stone cutter was changed to the sun, and he felt very proud and mighty; so large and yellow and high, up there in the sky. He burned the rice fields, he scorched the rich folks and the poor folks alike; but one day a cloud covered his face, and he was once more filled with discontent. "The cloud is mightier than I!" he cried. "I would be the cloud."
So the mountain spirit changed him into a cloud, and he lay content for a while between the sun and the earth. He caught the sunbeams and would not let them go; he sent rain to the earth, and the leaves were once more green, and the flowers bloomed; but this was not enough for him. He began pouring down rain for days, until the rivers overflowed and the rice crops were spoiled. He washed away whole towns and villages in his wicked play, but one thing he could not move—the great rock on the mountainside.
"Is the mountain stronger than I?" he cried angrily. "I will be the mountain!"
And at once the mountain spirit changed him to rock. For years he stood, proudly raising his head above the other cliffs, and he neither felt the hot sun nor was moved by the storms.
"This is better than anything else," he cried. "I am grander than them all!"
But, at last, he heard a sharp tap, tapping at his feet, and he saw a stone cutter there, working with his sharp tools and driving them into the mountainside. He felt a strange quaking at his very heart, and off came a great slab of rock in the stone cutter's hand. "Who is stronger than I?" cried the mountain. "I would be that man!"
And a man he became once more—the same poor stone cutter he was at the beginning, who lived in a hut, and slept on a hard bed at night, and had neither golden umbrella nor great riches, but toiled from morning till night.
Yet he was the happiest of all, now, for he had learned that, better than being the sun, or the cloud, or the mountain, is it to work for one's daily bread.
— Adapted from a Japanese folk-tale|
by Carolyn Sherwin Bailey