According to legend, today is the 2500th anniversary of the origin of the phrase, “kill two birds with one stone.”
They say back in 490 BC, in a remote Chinese monastery, a young pupil said to the wise Master Lao Tzen Tzang:
“Master, I seek your wisdom, for I have two problems which trouble me greatly, and which, coincidentally enough, both involve chickens.
“First, I must beg of you 1,000 pardons, for the two chickens I was to prepare for this evening’s post-meditation supper have been spoiled. As I am young and inexperienced in the way of Zen, I failed to keep a watchful eye on the chickens as they cooked, and during my inattention, they were burned beyond edibility.
“My second dilemma concerns a second set of two chickens, however these chickens are alive and even more troublesome. These two chickens, apparently vagabonds of some kind, wandered onto the grounds of the monastery earlier today. They were drunk and rowdy, and disturbed many of the other monks during post-breakfast meditation. I asked them kindly to leave us in peace and find refuge elsewhere, but they refused and became belligerent. They both swung their wings at me as if to punch me, but fortunately they were quite drunk and immediately fell, unconscious, to the ground.
“As they were comatose, I quickly grabbed them by their talons, placed them outside the monastery walls, and locked the gate. However, they both regained consciousness mere minutes later, and since then, have been trying in vain to fly over the gate. To make matters worse, they seem even more belligerent, and their drunken vulgarity continues to disturb our meditations.
“So I ask you, wise Master, what is the correct path of action?”
To which Lao Tzen Tzang replied:
“By killing two birds with one stone, you shall kill two birds with one stone.”
“And how shall I do that?” asked the pupil.
“You must find the biggest stone in the garden. Also a twelve foot ladder. Take these to the front gate, and carry the stone to the top of the ladder. When the chickens are not looking, drop the stone on top of them. Then cook them for supper.”
“But, Master, what if the stone is too heavy to carry up the ladder?”
“Then you must find a slightly smaller stone that is not as heavy.”
“But, master, what if none of the stones are big enough to kill both chickens in one fell swoop?”***
“Then find a stone you can fit in your hand. Aim for one chicken and throw the stone in a sidearm motion, as you might throw a curveball. The stone should ricochet off of the first chicken and hit the second chicken as well.”
The pupil followed his master’s advice but, alas, once again proved himself grossly incompetent. He carried a large stone to the top of a ladder placed next to the front gate, but just as he was about to drop it, one of the chickens flew up and pecked him in the eye. The young monk lost his balance and fell, dropping the rock on his own face.
Though as dumb luck would have it, the chickens saw this and laughed until they choked to death on their own vomit. The young monk may have lost several teeth, but that didn’t prevent him from cooking and eating a delectable sesame chicken supper.
And for the first and second times in history, two birds were killed with one stone. Also a ladder.
***Contrary to popular belief, this was not the origin of the phrase “one fell swoop.”