Zen Story: Chrysanthemums

Once there was a baron who was extremely fond of chrysanthemums. He had the whole rear garden of his mansion planted with them, and spent a lot of time and effort cultivating them. In fact, the baron paid more attention to the care of his chrysanthemums than to his wife and concubines. Many of his retainers were punished for inadvertently breaking off a blossom. In short, the baron’s passion for chrysanthemums made life miserable for everyone around him. On one occasion, when a certain retainer accidentally broke off a blossom, he was ordered into confinement by the furious baron. Enraged by this treatment, the retainer resolved to disembowel himself in protest, according to the traditional warrior code. Now it so happened that Zen master Sengai heard of this and hastened to intervene, preventing the retainer from committing suicide over such an affair. Not content with a temporary measure, Sengai resolved to effect a permanent solution. One rainy night when the chrysanthemums were in full bloom, Sengai sneaked into the baron’s garden with a sickle and cut down every single chrysanthemum. Hearing a strange sound from the garden, the baron looked out and saw someone there. Rushing out wielding his sword in great alarm, he demanded to know what Sengai was doing. The Zen master calmly replied, “Even weeds like this eventually become rank if they are not cut.” Now the baron realized how wrong he had been. It was like awakening from a dream. From that time onward, he no longer raised chrysanthemums.

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