Sunday, June 09, 2019

A modern-day bonsai kōan


A Japanese friend once told me a modern-day bonsai kōan. Kōan is the Japanese word for a paradoxical anecdote or a riddle used by Zen masters to make their disciples understand something. So, here it is.

Once upon a time, during Japan’s economic boom, there was a corporation. Back in those days, companies supported employees’ recreational activities and this particular one sponsored an in-house bonsai club. The company hired a bonsai master to instruct the club members and his bonsai were displayed in the headquarters foyer. Every day, hundreds of people passed by the bonsai display, but hardly anyone took notice of it.

All good things come to an end and with the onset of economic depression the company began to cut costs. It gave the boot to the bonsai master, but asked the club to continue displaying bonsai in the foyer. The employees happily started showcasing their own work and suddenly everyone began noticing and talking about the bonsai in the foyer.  

Why do you think trees created by the bonsai master were not obvious, while bonsai trees by amateurs were conspicuous?

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