The Japanese Mythological Beast and the Woodcutter

Japanese Forest Woodcutter

A woodcutter desperately needed wood for the winter. It had been a harsh winter, and his small family had used what wood they had. Resolute to provide for his family and welcoming a foray out of their hut, he strode off into the forest.

After hiking deep into the grove of trees he found the perfect tree. As it was midday he would need to cut down the tree with great speed to finish before dark. Thus he began. His chopping was firm and resounded throughout the forest.

The Japanese Mythological Satori

The satori rising from its sleep.

A satori in a nearby cave rose from its sleep. It gnashed its teeth as it emerged from its den wondering who would wake him. He quickly discovered the woodcutter hard at work. Irritated from being woken from his sleep, he decided to frighten the woodcutter.

He emerged from behind a tree and spoke out loud the thoughts the woodcutter was having. The woodcutter turned to see the frightening figure of the satori with his long claws, hairy body, and sharpened teeth. It gave the woodcutter such a fright that he determined to threaten it and chase it away with his axe.

“You think you can chase me away and frighten me with your axe? I will surely evade you and eat you. I am a satori and can read your mind.”

This terrified the woodcutter whose next thought was to strike the satori down quickly, when the satori said, “You now want to kill me. All the better reason to eat you sooner.” It then advanced.

Frightened and knowing that the satori could read his mind he emptied it of any thought of the satori whatsoever. He set his mind on the task of cutting the tree down as quickly and with as much skill as possible.

This intrigued the satori, so it stopped. It taunted him, “I can hear you thinking about not thinking of me.” The mockery from the satori drove the woodcutter into an even further state of focus.

He set his brow to the task at hand. Instead of pushing the thoughts of the satori out of his mind, something he knew the satori could sense, the woodcutter simply filled his mind entirely of the task of cutting down the tree. He imagined how quickly he could cut down the tree. He drove each swing right to its mark.

This incensed the satori, who mocked more and more but his taunts landed on deaf ears as the woodcutter was entranced with his work.

The woodcutter marveled at the wood. He marveled at the strength of the tree. He led each swing right to its mark. It quickly became his most skilled felling of a tree in his entire life. Joy in the work spread across his sweaty temple. He smiled.

The satori, angry at being ignored, resolved to kill and eat the man. The woodcutter, entirely focused on the felling of the tree had not thought about the satori in some time and was unaware of its presence.

A Japanese Woodcutter

A Japanese Woodcutter

The woodcutter sensed that the tree was close to falling. He took one powerful, exact swing in just the right position and the axe stuck quickly. The tree began cracking. The woodcutter struggled at the axe-handle to loosen his axe before the tree fell.

The tree suddenly gave way and began to fall when the satori took a step toward the woodcutter. The axe freed suddenly and, pulled forcefully by the woodcutters strength and focus, slipped from the axe-handle, flew through the air, and killed the satori instantly.

Not only had the woodcutter stopped his foe, he had felled the tree as well.

This fantastical retelling of the Japanese myth has several lessons for those who are seeking to achieve any goal. Zen masters* used it to teach their acolytes the power of zen focus. In fact, the Japanese term for inner awakening becoming aware of oneself, is also satori.

The 5 Lessons on Goals

Lesson One: your goals will make a lot of noise.

If your goals are big enough (and they should be big enough) they will make a ton of noise. Your goals, your art, should make waves and ring through the forest and hills. If you are going to attempt anything, attempt things that will move and inspire you and everyone around you.

Lesson Two: when your goals make a lot of noise, you are going to wake Resistance.

Expect this. Resistance will come; maybe in the form of haters, maybe in the form of distractions. It can be self-sabotage, fears, external sabotage, but Resistance will come.

Lesson Three: Every ounce of attention you give Resistance fuels it more.

You cannot engage Resistance head-on. First, that’s what it wants you to do. Second, it gives it more fuel for its taunts. Your attention empowers it and it gets bolder.

Lesson Four: You fight Resistance by focusing on your mission.

The more resolved you get to the task, the more you bring every ounce of your energy to the task, the less that Resistance has to use against you. You may infuriate Resistance. Detractors may roar even more loudly. Distractions may get more irritating.

But this degree of focus is what the Zen masters called “mushin”, ‘no-mindedness’. This is a state of mind where you are completely unaware of these distractions. They may be able to hurt you, but they cannot menace you or make you lose focus. Focus overcomes resistance.

Lesson Five: Serendipity is in your favor.

The Divine favors those who respect and give honor to divine inspiration. If you had an inspiration to create a work of art (or build a business, or start a humanitarian cause), this comes from your deepest sense of Truth and Rightness. It comes from your Divine center.

If you listen to Resistance, whether in fear or fighting, that divinely-inspired art is going to waste. Resistance will get you. The satori will win. The gods will rarely come to your aide. The Divine will give you what you focus on.

So, when you focus on the task you will not only beat Resistance; you will also accomplish the goal. You will have accomplished two things by focusing on right thing. Serendipity will happen all around you without being contrived or forced.


A.) What form will Resistance most likely take this week?

B.) What goal, task, or mission will you focus on relentlessly, with your entire being, losing yourself in to overcome Resistance by succeeding?


(* – A poem from ‘The Song of the Woodcutter: Zen Poems’.
‘Only the Zen man knows tranquility:
    The world-consuming flame cannot reach this valley.
Under a breezy limb, the windows of
    The flesh shut firm, I dream, wake, dream.’)