- STRAWBERRY - ZEN STORY
(If you want to use any of the material listed below, be sure
to obtain permission from the copyright holder if the material
is not in the public domain)
to Thomas Cleary, D.T. Suzuki changed the ending because he thought
the original would not appeal to Westerners. The story was then
picked up by others, such as Paul Reps. In the original version,
the strawberry turns out to be, in fact, deadly poison.
2) I'm sending a version that I kept from a 1999 post. It's from
David Elliot, and he's not sure of the origin either but suggests
maybe the Pantheon Folktales of India. It reminds me of the preciousness
of each moment, often brought into focus by our awareness of death.
(I've also heard it interpreted very differently!)
A man was walking across a field when he heard a rustling in the
tall grass beside him, and turned to see the hungry eyes of a
large tiger staring at him. The man began to run, fear giving
him greater speed and stamina than he knew he possessed. But always,
just behind him, he could hear the easy breathing of the hungry
tiger. Finally, the man stopped, not because his strength had
failed but because he had come to the edge of a high cliff and
could go no further. "I can let the tiger eat me, or take
my life in my own hands and jump." The man turned and saw
the tiger slowly walking toward him, licking its mouth in anticipation.
Resolved to take his own life, the man stepped to the edge of
the cliff and bent his legs to jump, when he suddenly noticed
a thick vine growing out of the side of the cliff, several feet
from the top. Carefully, he let himself drop down the cliff face,
catching hold of the vine as he slid past, and thanked God when
it was strong enough to support his weight. Hanging now, the man
looked up and saw the tiger's eyes peering over the edge of the
cliff. It roared down at him, then began to pace back and forth
along the top of the cliff. For the first time, the man looked
at the vine that had saved his life. It was thick enough for him
to wrap his legs around, resting his arms, and long enough that
he might be able to let himself far enough down to jump safely
to the ground below. And the moment he had this thought was the
same moment that he saw the second tiger, pacing back and forth
at the foot of the cliff, licking its mouth, and looking hungrily
up at him. Well, thought the man, if my strength and the strength
of the vine are great enough, perhaps I can outwait the tigers.
Surely, they'll go someplace else to eat when they're hungry enough.
And the man prepared to settle in for a long wait. His preparations
halted quickly, however, when he heard a scurrying, scratching
sound close to his own face. Glancing upwards, he saw two mice,
one white and one black, emerge from a small hole in the cliff.
They made their way swiftly to the base of the vine, and began
to gnaw through it with their small sharp teeth. There was nothing
else he could do, a tiger above, a tiger below, and the vine that
kept him from their jaws about to break. The man was closing his
eyes to begin his prayers, when he noticed, a little to his right,
a tiny patch of red color on the face of the cliff. He reached
toward it precariously, pulled, and brought his hand back beneath
his eyes. There, in his palm, was a luscious, red strawberry.
The man swiftly pressed the strawberry between his lips, onto
his tongue, and hanging between those still visible tigers, he
enjoyed the finest , juiciest, sweetest meal of his life.
3) A verstion of this tale appears in Gersie and King's Storymaking
in Education and Therapy. No source given but it's called
a Tao story and in this version it's a plum rather than a strawberry.
4) I think the story is in this book: Pearmain, Elisa. Doorways
to the Soul: Fifty-Two Wisdom Tales from Around the World.
Cleveland: Pilgrim Press, l998.
web page updated 8/9/03)