Friday, March 25, 2011

The Cracked Pot

A water bearer for the King had two very large pots, each hung on the end of a pole that the bearer carried across his neck. One of the pots had a crack in it, while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full portion of water.

Several times per day the water bearer would bring water from the local river to the King's palace, but the cracked pot always arrived only half full. For years this went on, with the bearer delivering only one and a half pots of water each time to the King's palace.

One day the King finally took notice and asked about the half filled pot. "Why do you keep that thing?" asked the King. "I want you to get rid of it. You could save yourself some work with two pots that remained full."   

"My King, do you and your wife enjoy the beautiful flowers at your dinner table every evening?" asked the water bearer.

"Certainly," replied the King, "But what does that have to do with a half-filled water pot?"

The bearer responded, "I would like to ask my King to accompany me to the river this afternoon. I will show you what I mean."

The King agreed, and that afternoon both men walked to the river. Along the way, the King noticed the beautiful flowers on one side of the path.

"These are the flowers that decorate our palace and dinner table," said the King. "But why are they only on one side?"

The bearer responded, "After I discovered the cracked pot, I planted flower seeds on that side of the path. When I return from the river, I water the flowers with the cracked pot. This means a little more work for me, but I am able to enjoy a beautiful path for my efforts, and the flowers now grace your home."

After a pause, the water bearer added, "I understand your wife also loves the flowers very much, Sir."

"Keep your cracked pot," said the King.


Accepting flaws, making the best of things, being innovative, sharing... all are important points in this story.

Our water bearer is a sage and probably doesn't know it. Or maybe he does?  

Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Gone Fishing

One day, a fisherman was lying on a beautiful beach, but he wasn't fishing. He had put away his net, and was enjoying the beautiful sunset and the crashing surf, when a man came walking towards him. The man noticed the fisherman just lying there, and decided to find out why he wasn't working harder.

"You're not going to catch many fish that way," said the man, "You should be working harder, rather than just sleeping on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up, and replied, "Then what?"

"Well, you could get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the man's answer.

"And then what?" asked the fisherman.

"You will make more money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will result in larger catches of fish!"

"And then what?" asked the fisherman again.

The man was starting to get a little annoyed with the fisherman's questions. "You could buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

"And then what?"

Now the man was really getting angry. "Don't you understand? You could build up a fleet of fishing boats and let your employees catch fish for you. You could become so rich that you would never have to work again. You could spend your days sitting on the beach, without a care in the world!"

The fisherman looked up and asked, "What am I doing now?"


Our story touches on moderation and balance in our lives, two very important themes.

The fisherman in our story is just enjoying what he can. He works hard on most days, he makes money for himself and his family, but quite often he stops and enjoys the moment. Sure, he could work harder, everyone could work harder, but then how much more work is enough?

A small net becomes a larger net. One net becomes ten nets. A small boat becomes a larger boat. A larger boat becomes a fleet. Where does it end?

In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu says, "He who knows that enough is enough will always have enough."

Our fisherman has found his center. He works hard, but he also takes moments for himself. He doesn't constantly push for more, just because more is possible. He enjoys the moment when he is fishing. He enjoys the moment when he watches a sunset. He even enjoys the questions from a stranger on the beach. Moderation and balance have become companions in his life.

Our fisherman lives in the center.

Enjoy the ride. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

Three Teachers

A young Zen student approached a sage, and asked about the first test he would undergo.

"It is simple," replied the sage. "Walk through the woods and follow the path you see before you. Along the way you will encounter three teachers."

"That's it?" replied the astonished young man, "When can I start?"

"Right away if you would like, but do not forget about the teachers."

The young man walked outside of the village and found the path. After a few hundred yards, he encountered a creek. The water was muddy and shallow, and someone had already placed a log across the creek, so he used it to cross over. The log was very slippery though, and after two steps the young man lost his footing, and fell into the water. His shoes were now wet and filled with mud.

The young man cleaned himself up as best as he could and continued on his way, but he was furious with himself for having been so careless.

A few minutes later he saw a huge boulder in his path. As he approached it, he realized he'd never be able to move it, so he decided to go around. On both sides of the boulder there were thick brier patches and the briers clung to his pants and scraped against his legs.

"This is crazy!" he thought. "Why doesn't someone clear this path? And where are the teachers?!" Angry, annoyed, and in a bit of discomfort, the young man continued on. He walked for several hours, but no one appeared. "This is horrible." he thought, "I've wasted my entire afternoon!" After another hour he finally reached the end of the path. It had brought him back to his village.

Once there, he found the sage waiting for him. "Did you meet the other teachers?" the old man asked.

"No," the angry student replied. "I have scrapes on my legs, mud in my shoes, and the teachers never showed up!"

"That's not true at all," said the sage. "Your first teacher was the log. You trusted it and used it to benefit yourself, but in the end it let you down. You will encounter many people in life that are just like that log. Next you encountered a boulder. It was large and immovable, and it forced you to change your path. This caused you to experience pain. You will encounter many people in life that are just like that boulder."

The sage added, "Anything that is angering you, annoying you, or testing your patience, see that as your teacher."

"I understand," said the student, "But what was my third teacher?"

"You," said the sage. "You carried patience with you on this journey, but you refused to use it. You also carried anger, annoyance, and impatience, and at the first opportunity you chose to use those negative feelings. Did they make your trip easier?"

"No," replied the young man.

"We all carry good and bad with us everywhere we go," said the sage. "You must choose which one will help you on this great journey."


We've all known the slippery log. It can be a person we trusted, or a situation in life that we thought would be favorable to us, but in the end things did not work out well.

We've also encountered people who are like the boulder. Their presence is large in our lives, they seem immovable, and quite often they are in our way. Having to go around them causes us pain.

Our young student only encountered two difficulties on his path, yet he allowed them to ruin his entire walk. He never noticed the beauty of the trees, the song birds, or the sunlight through the leaves. He walked for hours after seeing the boulder, yet he spent the entire time miserable and angry.

Every life will have boulders and slippery logs. That is a fact. All we can do is accept them, learn from them, and continue on.

Enjoy the ride. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Her Mirror

There once was a young woman who carried a mirror in her purse everywhere she went. Now there's nothing strange about carrying a mirror, lots of women carry them, the unusual part was how she used it. She would take the mirror out of her purse, look into it for a moment, and immediately put it back. Then she would quickly repeat the process. Always looking into the mirror twice.

One day a shopkeeper, who was new in town, noticed the young woman's behavior and thought to himself, "That woman must be so preoccupied with the way she looks that she has to carry a mirror around all the time. She shouldn't worry about the way she looks on the outside, it's what's inside that counts."

The shopkeeper decided to approach the woman and satisfy his curiosity. He walked over and asked, "Miss, why do you use your mirror in such an odd manner?"

The woman turned to the shopkeeper and said, "I use it when I feel troubled, sir. I look into it and it shows me the source of my problems."

"Well, that sounds rather depressing," said the shopkeeper. "Every time you look into your mirror you see a problem?"

"Not at all," said the woman. "When I look into it the second time, I see the person that can solve it."


Like many Zen stories, this one is about looking inward, at ourselves. In this case, the young lady in our story has taken an extra step, and literally looks at herself in the mirror first. It may seem strange, but it's effective.

Our young lady has figured out that everything in her life begins and ends with her. That doesn't mean she's selfish or narcissistic, quite the opposite, actually.

She has accepted that all of her problems are hers to solve. She owns them. She doesn't blame others when trouble comes her way. She doesn't try to control people, or tell them how to live their lives, or change their behavior. Even if the behavior of others is the source of her problems, she still looks inward for the solution.

Our young woman knows that the only thing in this world she can truly control is herself. 

Enjoy the ride.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Become a Lake

An aging Hindu master grew tired of his apprentice complaining. One morning, he sent the young man out for some salt.

When the apprentice returned, the master instructed the unhappy young man to pour a large handful of salt into a cup of water, and then to drink it.

"How does it taste?" the master asked.

"Salty, bitter, just horrible," replied the apprentice.

The master chuckled, then asked the young man to pick up another large handful of salt. The two walked in silence to the nearby lake. Once there, the old master told the young man to toss the salt in. After the apprentice swirled his handful of salt into the water, the old man said, "Now drink from the lake."

As the water dripped from the young man's chin, the master asked, "How does it taste?"

"The same as always, delicious," remarked the apprentice.

"Do you taste the salt?" asked the master.

"No," said the young man.

At this, the master sat down beside the young man and said, "I want you to see the pain of life as pure salt, my son. The amount of pain in life remains the same, exactly the same, but the amount of bitterness we taste depends on the container we put the pain into. When you are in pain, the best thing you can do is to enlarge your sense of things."

"Stop being a cup. Become a lake."


Enjoy the ride. 

Monday, March 7, 2011

Giving Away the Orchard

An old farmer was feeling very ill, so he visited the town doctor.  After his examination, the doctor informed the farmer that he had only a few more weeks to live. Time had finally caught up to the old man, and his body had worn down.

The farmer owned several acres of land and had maintained a cherry orchard for decades. He decided to give away some of his earthly belongings before he passed on. He hung this sign on a fence post next to his orchard: I WILL GIVE THIS FARM TO ANYONE WHO IS TRULY SATISFIED.

Of course word spread quickly, and people came from miles around, all hoping to convince the farmer they were truly satisfied. Each one went into the farmer's home, had a private chat, and then left, empty-handed. This went on for several days. Apparently, no one was able to convince the farmer they were truly satisfied with their lives.

One day a wealthy businessman was riding by. He read the sign and said to himself, "Since our friend the farmer is so eager to part with this orchard, I might as well claim it before someone else does. I am a rich man. I have more than anyone, so I certainly qualify as being satisfied."

With that, he went up to the door and explained what he was there for.

"Are you truly satisfied?" asked the old farmer.

"I am indeed, for I have everything in my life I could want, including a large home, several businesses, a beautiful wife, and more money than anyone in town."

"Friend," said the farmer, "if you are truly satisfied, why do you want my farm?"


This story is about our idea of satisfaction. It's a clue to help us find true satisfaction within ourselves, not just the temporary happiness that comes from material things or whatever satisfies our egos at the moment. 

How does anyone know when they're truly satisfied though?  The businessman thought he was, but with just a single question he was shown to be wrong. The farmer's offer is trickier than it seems...

The gift in our story is a free cherry orchard, but can a new car, a big raise, or free land bring us satisfaction?  Those things can certainly bring happiness, temporary happiness, but that is not the same as satisfaction, though it certainly is easy to confuse the two.

We often see people with great wealth that are caught breaking laws in order to acquire even more.  Remember all of the times you've heard of a person that was wealthy and famous, yet they seemed miserable in their lives. Those people obviously were not satisfied, or they wouldn't have continued to try and acquire even more of what their egos desired.  

True satisfaction cannot be found in anything external. True satisfaction is always inside of us. We carry it with us everywhere we go.

The problem is finding it.

Enjoy the ride.