Explore: For a story about another wise man, see The Man and the Ghost. For a story about a king who is far more wise than the king in this story, see The Story of the Donkey and the Rock.
[notes by LKG]
This story is part of the Tibetan Folktales unit. Story source: Tibetan Folk Tales by A.L. Shelton with illustrations by Mildred Bryant (1925).
The Wise Carpenter
ONCE upon a time in the city which was called Snalong lived a king whose name was Gendong. This king died and his son, Genchog, ruled in his stead. Among the people under him were two men, one a painter, who did exceedingly fine work, the other a carpenter, who was also of the best, and these two men were enemies.
One day the painter came up to the new king and said, "Last night as I was ready to go to sleep, your father sent an angel out of Heaven to call me, and I went to Heaven with him to see what your father wanted and found him rich beyond belief. He gave me a letter to bring to you, and here it is; this letter is about that fine carpenter that dwells here in this city."
The king opened the letter and read: "My son, I am here in Heaven, very wealthy, and I have all that I want except one thing, and that is I wish to build a Hläkäng, or temple, to the gods. But there are no good carpenters here and I want you to send me up the best one in the city. The painter who brings this to you knows all that I mean, for he has been here, and I'm sending the letter by him."
So the king, Genchog, said, "This must be my father's letter, for it is like him to want to build a temple to the gods, and I must see to his wishes at once." So he called the carpenter before him and told him, "My father is in the dwelling of the gods, very happy, but wants to build a Hläkäng and asked me to send you up to help him."
The carpenter thought it queer that such a thing could occur, and said to himself, "It must be a scheme of that painter to get rid of me. I must think of some plan to get ahead of him." Then he said, "Läso [which means so-be-it], but how am I to get there?"
Then the King called the painter and asked him how he was to send the carpenter to his father. The painter said, "This is the way. He is to bring all his tools that he will need up there, put them on a pile on the ground, sit on them, then wood must be piled around him and set on fire. As the smoke goes up, he can ride on it to Heaven."
"Well, that's all right," said the carpenter, "but I want to start from my own field." The king gave him seven days to get ready.
The carpenter went back home to his wife and said, "That painter has fixed a scheme to kill me, and I have only seven days to wait to be burned up, so we must work, for I want a tunnel dug from my house out to the field where the burning is to take place." They got it done and put a few sticks over the opening where he could pile his tools and sit on them.
The king, as soon as the seven days were up, ordered his people to bring several loads of wood, each to carry a load and a bowl of oil. So the wood was piled four square around the carpenter, the oil poured on and set on fire. While the fire was big the carpenter slipped down in the tunnel. The painter exclaimed, "Look, there he goes, riding the smoke to Heaven." They all took it for the truth and went home.
Now, the carpenter had a dark secret room in his house and in there he stayed, washing himself every day and having some clothes made like the gods wear. At the end of three months, putting on these garments, and with skin as white as a lily, he came out of his house and went to see the king, bearing a letter to him from his father.
Thus read the letter, "My dear son Genchog, it is said that you are a good ruler and rule your people wisely and well. Some three months ago you sent me a carpenter to build a Hläkäng, and he has finished it beautifully, and I want you to see that he has his reward on earth when he comes back. Now that the temple is done I want the best painter that you have in the kingdom to come and paint it for me. The same plan that you chose in sending the carpenter will do very well for sending the painter." The carpenter told him how rich his father was and of his adventures in the sky. The king gave him great riches, making him happy for life.
And after reading the letter the king sent for the painter and said, "The carpenter has just come down from Heaven, and has brought a letter asking you to come and paint the Hläkäng for my father."
The painter looking at the carpenter, with his skin so white, dressed in such strange clothes, with strings of coral about his neck, while he was still in his old clothes, thought perhaps that it was all right to go to Heaven that way, and half believed that the carpenter had really been there. So he got all of his things together; as he had been given seven days to prepare, the wood and oil had been brought with some things which the King wished to send to his father.
When all was ready the carpenter said that they must make music for him as he ascended. So they got drums, horns and cymbals, and as the fire started began to beat loudly and made a great noise. As soon as the fire reached the painter, he yelled that he was being burned up, but the noise was so great he couldn't be heard, so he really did go to Heaven.