The Bamboo, A Zen Story

Once a Zen-Master was asked by the emperor - because the master was a great painter - to paint a picture of a bamboo.

Bamboo, Zen-Story by Hokusai

The master said: "It will take time." "How much?", asked the king. The master said: "That is difficult to say, but at least two, three years." The king said: "Are you mad or something? You are one of the greatest painters. I thought you can just draw it right now." He said: "That is not the problem. Drawing a bamboo is not the problem. But first I have to be a bamboo. Otherwise how I do know what a bamboo is? I want to know the bamboo from the inside. So I will have to go and live in a bamboo grove. Nobody knows how long it will take. Unless I know the bamboo from the within, I cannot paint. That has been my practice for my whole life. I paint only that which I have known from its deepest core." The king said: "Okay, I will wait."

One year passed. He sent a few people to see what was happening, whether the man was alive or dead. They came and they said: "The man is alive, but we don´t think that he is a man anymore. He is a bamboo. He was swinging with the bamboos in the wind. We passed by his side, he didn't notice us. We said: 'Hello!' He didn't hear. We wanted to ask him, we looked at his eyes - they were so empty, that we became frightend. Either he has gone mad or something has happened. And he can do anything! So we escaped. He may kill us! Who knows? He may jump upon us. He's no more the same man." The king himself went to see. And the master was swinging in the wind, in the sun. And the king asked: "Sir, what about my painting?" He didn't answer.

After three years he appeared in the court. And he said: "Now bring the canvas and the paint, I'm ready. And why were you people disturbing me again and again? If you had not disturbed me, I would have come a little earlier. These fools of your court, they were telling things to me, they were saying: 'Hello!' .. Do you say hello to a bamboo? They disturbed the whole thing. It took month for me again to resettle into being a bamboo and to forget that I am a man. And then you came and you said: 'Sir!' ... Is that a way to address a bamboo? When are you going to paint? ... Has anybody heard that bamboos paint? You are a fool, you are surrounded by fools. I have told you that I will come whenever I'm ready!"

The canvas was brought, the brushes and the colour and within seconds he drew the bamboo. And it is said, that the king wept out of joy. He had never seen such a painting. It was so alive. It was no ordinary painting. It was not from the outside. It was from the bamboo. As if a bamboo had sprouted on the canvas.