Zen Story: Can a good apple grow on a bad tree, or a bad apple on a good tree?

Zen Story subtitle: The Zen master who usually produced only good fruit, still had one go rotten on him, one day.

Luzo Zenlo was a Zen master of the late 18th century. He lived in Japan.

He was the head of a monastery, known as the Zen temple capital of Japan, Zen house, it was called.

The locals called it, “houki”, though, which meant, broom, because the Zen master here, would often come after you with his broom.

Luzo, had a large bamboo framed broom that he would sweep around you whenever you fluffed up in class. He would say that he is sweeping away the cobwebs of your mind with his broom.

Then one day, a student, simply grabbed the broom from Luzo, and he hit Luzo over the head with it.

He said,

“I did this, because you Luzo, are full of dust, open up to freshness, and get the real Zen spirit, current in the current Master’s teachings, as being taught in the other Zen monasteries around here, in these modern times.”

Luzo blinked hard.

For the first time in his long life, as a Zen master here, a student had hit him.

He left the scene to contemplate over a response.

The student went after him, and he hit him a second time.

“Your response needs to be immediate, right now, not considered,”

he said.

Luzo, lay down, and died.

When they searched his body, they found a note on him that said, that this student was now the new master in this monastery. The old must make place for the new.

The old Master had known that this was going to happen.

A temple without a master is like a tree without any fruit, but the type of fruit growing on any tree in a monastery does depend a lot on the strength of the master’s roots, as good Zen masters produce good fruit, and bad ones, bad fruit.

This new student had come across to Luzo’s temple only recently from another nearby temple.

 (Would the light in the Zen temple keep burning without the love of the old master still in it)

So, this new student took over the reins, but not one of the other students would give him any credence. They all blamed him for the death of their previous master.

It was not until 6 months had gone by that they decided that they better buckle down and see what this new guy was really all about.

The trouble was that by then, this student who had become master was lost in his own ego, and was aggrandizing his position unwisely, all over the country.

Luzo’s own old master heard about this, and he went over to visit the new master, at his previous student’s temple.

This great Zen master went into the temple, as the imposter was giving a discourse.

The Zen master said one word, “Harrumph”.

and he left.

All of the other students said “harrumph” too, and they all also left then too, following the older master out of this temple, which was then just left solely to this imposter, and he remained isolated there then until he died.

Photo Credit: The photos used in this article were sourced from the free media site,


What do you think?

Written by The Dunce


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    • You put that very well, very simply and straightforwardly, easily understood.

      If I was saying what you just said there I would have used too many words to say it, something like this: …lol…

      What is is what is, but is not yet what could be, until you make the best of what is, and what has happened to get you to where what is is, so that you can move past that what is, and create a new better what is than what was what is before, so to speak.

      Now that’s a mouthful or two, more than what you said, but nowhere near as clear.

        • Yes, very well put, and yet, muddy waters must serve their purpose too, at times, but if we can, we should give people clear, smooth water, rather than muddying up their waters more.

          I am not sure where the Zen concept of the koan fits in here though.

          Is it like a pebble thrown in the water, or a rock thrown in?

          Or does it help more just to settle the waters, by our thinking on it, and so the mud settles, until, it is so clear, that we, at last, see the answer to the koan?

          • for me it was inserting the hand into the water without creating a disturbance. But the pebble sliding into the water without a ripple also works.

  1. Let’s go back to the apples. In my garden back in Latvia I had four apple trees. On one really good tree occasionally apples grew and then just last quickly rotted. On another tree that has a hollow and was very old apples grew in abundance and did not rot.

    • You answered my question then.

      Good apples can grow on what appears to be an old, and had it, tree, and bad apples can grow on what seems to be a good tree.

      First appearances are not always a good indication of the real truth then, and sometimes you cannot tell a book by its cover.

  2. “Harumph is defined as an expression of dissatisfaction, disdain, or unhappiness”.

    The master had heard enough, and he knew that none of it was real truth, but just respouted knowledge.

    He wanted to show this both to the students, and to the “false” master.

    The students instantly saw the truth. The “false” master never did.

    Zen masters often say one word like this, often rather loudly too, and the explosion of sound can act to loosen up someone’s mind if they are ready to be loosened so up, and then they might become enlightened too.

    A meaningless word, like “Kaa” is often used too.

    I like this well-known Zen story too:

    Zen Koan: “The Last Poem of Hoshin” Parable

    The Zen Master Hoshin lived in China many years. Then he returned to the northeastern part of Japan, where he taught his disciples. When he was getting very old, he told them a story he had heard in China. This is the story.

    One year on the twenty-fifth of December, Tokufu, who was very old, said to his disciples: “I am not going to be alive next year so you fellows should treat me well this year.”

    The pupils thought he was joking, but since he was a great-hearted teacher each of them, in turn, treated him to a feast on succeeding days of the departing year.

    On the eve of the new year, Tokufu concluded: “You have been good to me. I shall leave tomorrow afternoon when the snow has stopped.”

    The disciples laughed, thinking he was aging and talking nonsense since the night was clear and without snow. But at midnight snow began to fall, and the next day they did not find their teacher about. They went to the meditation hall. There he had passed on.

    Hoshin, who related this story, told his disciples: “It is not necessary for a Zen master to predict his passing, but if he really wishes to do so, he can.”

    “Can you?” someone asked.

    “Yes,” answered Hoshin. “I will show you what I can do seven days from now.”

    None of the disciples believed him, and most of them had even forgotten the conversation when Hoshin called them together.

    “Seven days ago,” he remarked, “I said I was going to leave you. It is customary to write a farewell poem, but I am neither a poet or a calligrapher. Let one of you inscribe my last words.”

    His followers thought he was joking, but one of them started to write.

    “Are you ready?” Hoshin asked.

    “Yes sir,” replied the writer.

    Then Hoshin dictated:

    I came from brilliancy
    And return to brilliancy.
    What is this?

    This line was one line short of the customary four, so the disciple said: “Master, we are one line short.”

    Hoshin, with the roar of a conquering lion, shouted “Kaa!” and was gone.


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