Zen and the Nature of Quality

To understand perfection, one must improve it.

An AI-generated painting in traditional Japanese style of a student making notes on a scroll.
A student making notes on a scroll. Image generated with AI by DALL-E.

“Master,” said the student, “We just read ‘The Tale of Genji’ in class and I was so impressed by it.”

“It is a splendid book indeed,” said the Master. “I’m happy that you liked it.”

“I did, Master. But I would like to understand, what makes the tale so perfect?”

“Ah, to understand its qualities is not an easy task, my Son.”

“I would like to try, Master,” said the student.

“Very well,” said the Master. “Then, you must improve it.”

“Improve ‘The Tale of Genji’, Master? How is that possible? Would it not be disrespectful to even try?”

“Not at all, my child. Just make refinements, and you’ll see.”

The student thanked the Master, greeted, and left.

When the student came back, he seemed aghast.

“Master, I spent hours trying improvements, but for nothing. The story seemed to fall apart with any change I made. If I can’t improve it, as you instructed me, how can I understand its greatness?”

But the Master merely smiled.

At that moment, the student was Enlightened.

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