Master and The Novice

One morning, the Master saw a novice sitting in meditation in the temple garden. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘I am meditating to gain enlightenment,’ the novice said, and slipped back into meditation. When he opened his eyes an hour later, he saw the Master still sitting in front of him, polishing atile. ‘What are you doing, Sir?’ the novice asked. ‘I am polishing this tile so that it can become a mirror,’ the Master said.

‘But how is that possible?’ asked the bewildered voice. ‘If it is possible to gain enlightenment by sitting in meditation, then it should certainly be possible to convert a tile into a mirror by polishing it,’ the Master said. The novice hung his head in shame.

Soon thereafter, the Master wished to retire. So, to select his successor, he asked all the monks to inscribe the essence of their understanding of Zen on the tablets set up in the garden. All got busy inscribing their tiles with their insights, but this novice started polishing the tile instead of inscribing anything on it; the Master rolled his eyes in disbelief when he saw this.

The tablets of tiles were to be unveiled the next day, and the successor selected. The Master noticed that the inscriptions of all the other monks were reflected in the polished tile of the novice, which was otherwise blank. The Master smiled at him with pride — and this smile too was reflected in the tile. The novice became the new Master.


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