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The Young Monk and the New Year's Resolutions

Zen Buddhist Young Monk 1 SmallFrom the upcoming book, "A Handful of Nothing."

The day after the young monk visited the village during the Spring Festival, he was sweeping the hallway near the monastery’s kitchen, trying to remain mindful of his chore, but his mind kept turning to the new year approaching. He knew that people looked ahead to the new year and set goals for personal achievements, but this was not something he had ever done.

The old master emerged from the kitchen with a cup of tea.

“Master,” the monk said, leaning his broom against the wall, “is it wrong to set goals for a new year?”

“What goals would you like to set?”

After thinking a moment, the young monk said, “Success. Enlightenment. Those would be my goals for the new year.”

The master took a sip of tea. “As long as the goals are set mindfully, I would encourage you to align them with your values. The goals should not be pursued with attachment or ego-driven desires.”

“Is a goal of success ego-driven?”

“I would answer your question with a question. What are your daily activities now?”

The monk said, “I meditate, eat, help maintain the monastery, and seek to develop my compassion and kindness, living in the moment, realizing my connection to all things, experiencing life as it unfolds.”

“And what will you do when you find success?”

The monk’s eyes widened. Slowly, he said, “I will meditate, eat, help maintain the monastery, and seek to develop my compassion and kindness, realizing my connection to all things and experiencing life as it unfolds.”

The old master’s face widened in a smile and the young monk was enlightened.

"And now, I am going to work on the only goal I have set," said the master.

"If I may ask, what is your goal?"

"To enjoy this cup of tea," the master said with a smile as he walked toward the garden.

--by Ken Gullette

A Parable: The Zen Master and the Tree

Monk and the Tree 3-800pxIn a serene Zen Buddhist monastery nestled among mist-covered mountains, a young monk approached the master, his heart heavy with defeat.

He had striven for years to understand the nature of the mind, yet enlightenment eluded him, and recent personal tragedies had further clouded his path.

The elderly master led the young monk to a garden where a single tree stood. This tree, once vibrant and full of life, had been struck by lightning, leaving it scarred and half-destroyed.

The master pointed to the tree and asked, "What do you see?"

"A broken tree, master, damaged by misfortune," the young monk said.

"Look closer," said the master.

The monk stepped closer to the tree and examined the trunk. He noticed new shoots emerging from the scars, reaching delicately toward the sky.

"This tree, struck by lightning, faced its own form of tragedy," said the master. "Yet, it persists, finding a way to grow anew amidst its scars. Its branches may be fewer, but each leaf now basks in the sun's embrace with greater strength."

The young monk's eyes widened. 

The master continued, "In life, every one of us encounters moments of tragedy and defeat that scar us deeply. Yet, like this tree, our true nature is not in the tragedy, but in how we rise and grow from the damage of our experiences. What we seek, young monk, is not to avoid all damage. Instead, we seek to embrace each tragedy and defeat as a chance to rise stronger."

The young monk was enlightened. He thanked the master and walked from the garden, contemplating the root, the internal strength, that would allow him to grow anew.