A priest was in charge of the garden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given
the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there
was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when
the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden.
He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously
raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.
When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work. "Isn't it beautiful,"
he called out to the old master. "Yes," replied the old man, "but there is something
missing. Help me over this wall and I'll put it right for you."
After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly,
the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk,
and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. "There," said the old man,
"you can put me back now."
People's reactions to this story:
"It's not perfect to be perfect. It's a relief to remember that. But then I wonder,
did the old master feel jealous of the beauty created by the priest and seek to destroy
it in the guise of teaching a message? Trying to perfectly imperfect is egotistical
"Nature is more perfect than anything man can create. To disrupt that beauty for the
sake of making something beautiful is an absurdity."
"Let nature take its course. It's not perfect but is beautiful all in itself."
"We should try to see things as they really are, including their imperfections. THAT'S
"Trying to be perfect can make a person miserable."
"Beauty is not something you make. It happens spontaneously, naturally, by itself."
"Keep nature around! Don't try to sweep it away!"
"I wonder if cleanliness symbolizes emptiness, and if the leaves symbolize freedom.
The old man thought the leaves gave the yard a more practical, natural look. What
in life is perfect and always in order? When things are in order, there is nothing
really to look at."
"Ah, a lesson from the Thoreau school of nature appreciation. People should make an
effort to put off the facades they project in everyday life. You should present yourself
as freely as possible and not feel so uncomfortable with your identity that you become something you are not."
"If you act a certain way all of the time, don't be a phony and try to change the
way you are just for certain people."
"God gives nature its natural beauty. Things are a certain way for a reason."
"A person shouldn't get too preoccupied with the vanities of life, because something
unexpected will come along and shatter your ideals."
"Normally the younger priest would not have the garden look so perfect. He was trying
to impress his company. The Zen master was trying to show him to be and act like
himself, and not to create a false image."
"Natural beauty is better than beauty put on for some purpose."
"The quest for perfect is an eternal pursuit with no destination in sight."
"Don't rain on anyone's parade! Give compliments where they belong and don't criticize
so much! Jealousy is a bad thing - don't take revenge out on others."
"Don't try to create something that is not meant to be. Only when we disrupt nature
does it become ugly."
"Nature doesn't need our help to be beautiful - but we need the help of nature."
"This story has to do with control, and how things are much better - especially events
in nature and the world - if we just let go and let nature take its course."
"This story is about trust - when to trust, and when not to."
"Maybe because the old man's garden didn't look as good, this story is a message about
the neglect of elders."
|| Masterpiece || Working Very Hard || Going with the Flow ||
John Suler, Ph.D. © 1997 All rights reserved.