John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors


The old Zen master's health was fading. Knowing his death was near, he announced to all the monks that he soon would be passing down his robe and rice bowl to appoint the next master of the monastery. His choice, he said, would be based on a contest. Anyone seeking the appointment was required to demonstrate his spiritual wisdom by submitting a poem.

The head monk, the most obvious successor, presented a poem that was well composed and insightful. All the monks anticipated his selection as their new leader.

The next morning another poem appeared on the wall in the hallway, apparently written during the dark hours of the night. It stunned everyone with it's elegance and profundity but no one knew who the author was.

Determined to find this person, the old master began questioning all the monks. To his surprise, the investigation led to the rather quiet kitchen worker who pounded rice for the meals. Upon hearing the news, the jealous head monk and his comrades plotted to kill their rival. In secret, the old master passed down his robe and bowl to the rice pounder, who quickly fled from the monastery, later to become a widely renowned Zen teacher.

People's reactions to this story:

"The person who everyone thinks is best doesn't always end up winning."

"The obvious choice is not always the best choice."

"Expect the unexpected. Take nothing for granted."

"Some people are born leaders."

"Never judge a book by its cover. It's a platitude, but it's true. Everyone has a hidden talent inside them."

"I would tell this story to children who lack self-esteem. It would allow them to see that anyone can accomplish anything, regardless of their appearance, race, money, etc."

"Why is it that the quiet people always seem to be the intelligent ones?"

"This story says a lot about 'little' people. Those who are not well known often are the ones who are well-composed and insightful."

"People you would never expect to be the 'ONE' usually turn out to be the best, if they're just given a chance."

"Sometimes the one you expect least to speak out does so, and does so wonderfully. I think this is a major problem with Americans. They prejudge so quickly."

"The greatest good can exist in the most unlikely places. Some people really hate this fact."

"The people who act like they are smart aren't really smart at all."

"Power corrupts."

"The other monks didn't understand that it was not a contest to find a winner, but to find a believer."

"People of great importance often fail to realize that everyone is equal.... And for the monks who plotted the killing, they are already part dead. "

"The kitchen worker would never have killed for the position. Knowledge (Zen) is not politics.

"Some people will do just about anything to get what they want."

"I guess pounding rice gives you lots of time to meditate and find selflessness."

"When small-minded people don't get what they want, their true colors come out."

"It pisses me off when the successful underdog is attacked for no other reason than just being the best! Were this story told to an impressionable individual, it might frightened that person away from trying to succeed."

"In life, there are no rules."

"Instead of this weak little rice pounder staying in the village, he runs away with the robe and bowl. He could have been an inspiration to the others in the village who didn't succeed! There are always people who are jealous, but to give into them only gives them another victory."

"The rice pounder didn't really want to become the next master. He just wanted to show his self without anyone knowing."

"Reminds me of King Arthur and how he pulled the sword out of the stone - but no one believed him."

"This sounds like Cinderella!"

"People who are truthful and genuine will go furthest in life."

"I guess the old Zen master learned to read the writing on the wall."

|| Holy Man || Ritual Cat || More is Not Enough ||

~ Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbor ~