A free leaf like this one might drift to a river, then to an ocean, and eventually into a much bigger world in the end.
Ken was a hard-working and capable young man, but he was tormented by slanderous comments that people were making about him. He was so upset that he could neither sleep well at night nor work effectively during the day. With nowhere else to turn, he went to see Venerable Master Chi Xin, who was famous for enlightening persons suffering from depression by using witty metaphors to cheer them up.
After listening carefully to Ken’s problem, the Master smiled and instructed a novice to fetch a bucket and a ladle. He then asked Ken to go with him to a creek flowing behind the temple.
On the way to the creek, the Master plucked a leaf from a bodhi tree in the garden and dropped it into the bucket. He then turned to Ken and said, “You are just as pure and fresh as this leaf, which has done no harm to anyone in the world. In the same way that the leaf now lies at the bottom of the bucket, you have sunk miserably to the bottom of this mundane world.” Ken sighed heavily and nodded his head. He had to admit, he was like that leaf—stuck at the bottom of life’s bucket.
When they arrived at the creek, the old monk put the bucket at the edge of the water and bent down to scoop up some water with the ladle. He said, “This water represents nasty slander aimed at crushing you. Watch what happens when it hits the leaf.” He then poured the water right onto the leaf. The leaf was violently tossed to and fro inside the bucket, but eventually came to rest, floating calmly on the surface of the water.
The monk stooped and ladled up some more water, pouring it again onto the leaf. “Here is another verbal attack, intended to knock you down completely.” The water sloshed fiercely inside the bucket again, but the leaf, which remained intact and pristine, just floated closer to the top of the bucket.
Smiling, the Master said, “It would be even better if we could have more criticism and slander….” Confused, Ken watched the Master repeatedly pour ladle after ladle of water over the leaf. Eventually the water overflowed, carrying the leaf out of the bucket and into the creek. In front of their eyes, the leaf swiftly drifted downstream.
The old monk looked at Ken and remarked that what made the leaf untouchable was its pure, fresh nature. All the nasty lies—the water that the Master had used to try to destroy the leaf—didn’t damage it at all. On the contrary, they helped release the leaf from the bondage of the bucket and set it free to drift into the creek.
“You never know,” the Master stressed, “that leaf might drift to a river, then to an ocean, and finally to a much bigger world.”
Having been awakened by the Master’s words, Ken blinked back his tears and said happily, “I understand! A pure, fresh leaf can’t be confined to the bottom of a bucket forever. Likewise, slander only helps to cleanse all the impurities in our hearts and motivates us to grow stronger.”
I read this inspiring story a long time ago. I recently had the chance to share it with Blanca, my colleague at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She seemed a little distressed, so I asked if something was bothering her.
She replied, “Professor Zhang was all upset and I tried to calm him down, but he wrote a letter to our supervisor and accused me of dereliction of duty. What a lie!”
It turned out that this Professor Zhang’s daughter went to study in France last year, and she was unfortunately hit by a car in Paris. Although she got good treatment there and returned to Taiwan safely, Zhang urged Taiwanese diplomats based in Paris to claim compensation from the French driver. Blanca was assigned by our supervisor to meet with Zhang and explain that taking care of such personal matters went far beyond the scope of our diplomats’ duties.
Blanca did exactly what our supervisor had asked her to do, and then, to help Zhang look on the situation positively, she reminded him that his daughter’s safe return home was far more significant than claiming indemnification.
“He twisted my goodwill completely around!” Blanca complained. “He even accused me of being worthless and knowing only how to shirk my duty. Now I have to write a report and explain in detail what I said to him.”
I shared Ken’s story with her, and it brought a smile back to her face! How nice!