The porcelain vase and the rose

By Paulo Coelho

Alessandra Marin tells the following story: the Grand Master and the Guardian shared the administration of a Zen monastery. One day, the Guardian died and a replacement had to be found.

The Grand Master gathered together all the disciples in order to decide who would have the honour of working at his side.

‘I am going to set you a problem,’ said the Grand Master. ‘And the first one to solve that problem will be the new Guardian of the temple.’

Once this briefest of speeches was over, he placed a small stool in the middle of the room. On it stood a priceless porcelain vase containing a red rose.

‘There is the problem,’ said the Grand Master.

The disciples looked in some perplexity at what was there before them: the rare, sophisticated designs on the porcelain vase and the elegance of the flower. What did it represent? What should they do? What did this enigma mean?

After a few moments, one of the disciples got to his feet and looked at the master and at his fellow students. Then he walked resolutely over to the vase and threw it to the ground, shattering it.

‘You are the new Guardian,’ the Grand Master said to the student.

And as soon as the student had returned to his place, he explained.

‘I made myself perfectly clear. I said that there was a problem to be solved. Now it does not matter how beautiful or fascinating a problem might be, it has to be eliminated.

A problem is a problem. It could be a very rare porcelain vase, a delightful love affair that no longer makes any sense, or a course of action that we should abandon, but which we insist on continuing because it brings us comfort.

There is only one way to deal with a problem: attack it head on. At such moments, one cannot feel pity, nor be diverted by the fascination inherent in any conflict.’

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  1. marie-christine says:

    When you are blind you follow your intuition – it is your guide – you FOUR SENSES are magnified FIVE TIMES .
    You are also able to use the two eyes from the other person and see clearer in the darkness.
    5×4=2 = 22
    and you keep on sm;)ng!
    that helps to keep you on “alert”

  2. marie-christine says:

    when you are blind, you follow your intuition.
    – it is your guide –
    your five senses get magnified 4 times
    you are able to use the two eyes from the other person and see clearer in the darkness.
    and you keep on s:)ng!

  3. marie-christine says:

    when you are blind, you follow your intuition.
    – it is your guide –
    your five senses get magnified 4 times
    you are able to use the two eyes from the other person and see clearer in the darkness.

  4. Josephine (Swe) says:

    A little bit like the story of the Gordian knot.
    I like this one very much :-)

  5. Natalia says:

    I think the problem is that our soul – like rose, need this stupid and hard world, like water.

  6. fLUXman says:

    bo0om paulo,

    now a days whenever i see a rose,
    i stoop and take in a whiff,
    rarely have i found a true rose,
    we are only smashing vases trying to clear a problem,
    where is the essence thats missing,
    have found it in you paulo,
    love and thanks for all the fish…;-)

  7. myriam says:

    Dear In and friends….

    ID represents the EGO isn’it?? made of fears and many masks on the face ….
    Thanks for this reflexion…..

  8. hola says:

    sub rose

    Dear Paulo,

    It was very nice seeing again after all this years.
    I want to tell you that I really love the godness on you, your strenght, and persistance.
    Love has many faces…
    Diedra ” practical jocker” if you prefer…

  9. IN says:

    Dear Aditya and friends ;),

    you are completely right I wouldn’t have seen the problem too. But you know fear does block a good view on things.
    How many times haven’t I had a problem and because of fear of solving it, not seeing the right solution? Fear has many faces. That’s what makes it really hard to conquer. Because we put on the masks on the face of fear. Think about what the disciples may have thought.


  10. Esteban says:

    Honestly, as i was reading the story i thought to myself “i’d get up and throw it to the ground – smash it”. i definitely wouldn’t have been able to explain why I did it or why i thought to do it. and also the thought came into my head “if i was wrong no one else has a chance to be right”. that made me think if i was actually there would i get up and smash it or would i allow my thought of “if i’m wrong” keep me from doing what i think is right. i’m pretty sure i would have stayed seated.

  11. Ranjeet says:

    It all started with your book Alchemist and then i found that i have got a totally different perspective for all the things happening around me. I started feeling more free and light.
    Your writings make me to think, to think over each and every miniscule thing of daily life.. which usually we ignore.
    well, all i can say is THANKS :)

  12. Marjo says:

    Most of the realities are fearsome. They symbolize our heart’s desires so there is only fear of losing these desires when we try to resolve them. Elijah was like that in The Fifth Mountain, he feared fulfilling his responsibility of being a prophet because he might lose the only love he has for the Abakar woman, but many of life’s pitfalls lead to deeper realization of who we are. We may not accept them at first sight (because all changes/problems are unwelcomed), but in the final bend, it is the only remedy and it is the only way to keep our sanity and happiness last longer.

  13. aditya says:

    Dear IN and freinds !

    frankly had i been there i would have not become the grandmaster, not because I am afraid to solve a problem, but because I never saw what the problem was. when the brief speech was over i would have not underatood that the vase was the problem.
    if the probelm was the vase with a rose, just removing the rose and maybe gift it to some butiful woman not solved the problem. why was the silly destruction necessary. problem was in the combination of rose and vase, just removing the components would have sufficed, who knows ??


  14. Lan Nguyen says:

    Thank you for your stories, Sir Paulo Coelho!I love them! I bought a plant today and have it on my office desk to remind me of the beauty of life, of green leaves and flowers.
    I do not know how long it will last, whether it likes its place,get enough light etc. all that will not matter as long as I try to take care of it and let it be itself and encourages me with my study, which I thought of giving up!
    As the plant, it is blossoming without bothering about where it is; it is just part of does not question how do I look like, how I am doing, what do people think of me… so I should not question my existance or be afraid of what people will think of me. I just have to have faith in God and in the choices I make and do my best out of it. Be happy =) of course cry when I feel like it, every tears that felt brings back happiness, just like after it rains the sun will always shines

  15. Barbara says:

    I will keep this story in my mind.

    Paolo Coelho: I would finally (after so many years!) take today the opportunity to thank you. Thank you because your words, your books, YOU are accompanying me every day. You have very much changed my life!
    Thank you!

  16. myriam says:

    DEAR PAulo,

    THe symbol of the rose is so dear to me…. So dear the country which i live FRANCE…. The ROSE is the symbol of one of the potitic affairs…
    IT remember me also DANN BROWN and the DA VINCI CODE…
    IT me remember HOW passionnate I am and intteressted of the Religious affairs..

    MUCH MOre I like YOUR CONCLUSION which I shall remember for the rest of this very special day.
    Thank you to enlight this day and to make me understand how precious is the life on EARTH, the bleue planet..


  17. Kathleen says:

    These “puzzles” of life really do excercise your brain don’t they.
    Ok to me the vase represented vast riches and the red rose = love. You have to have no real regard for material riches if you are to reach love.

  18. Josephine (Swe) says:

    A little bit like the story of the Gordian knot.
    I like this one very much :-)

  19. Natalia says:

    but how to neither feel pity nor fascinated…….

  20. Leaf says:

    This seems unrelated…but actually it’s not…i learned my lesson today from ‘kid’ ( I call it that only to protect its id)
    It goes around these days, saying..
    Ow! – i did this…
    Ow! – i did that…
    I have observed for some time with random disinterest and obvious ‘aah, there-there’ etc etc.

    and came to realize that
    a warrior of light learns how to live without hurting oneself…then has a need/duty to apply it to others.

    -If you can watch the vase fall without being hurt/shocked or such like…or smash it, without believing in the pain this inanimate ‘expensive’ object may cause…which is but financial and symbolic…then
    all that is left is the rose, with or without root, the form of life and beauty of the tree from which it came.
    Yes, I am feeling a bit ‘surreal’
    today……portrait of patience pending…hehey!! can’t wait.

    Thank you, Sir,
    xx before your feet, xx
    love to all, xx
    PS, the key is to ID ‘problem’, is it not?

  21. Natalia says:

    But how to not feel pity or fascinated…..

  22. IN says:

    Fear of solving a problem may have caused the other disciples not to throw that vase on the floor.
    That’s why you should never fear solving a problem and indeed, face it head on. The outcome will always be better than sitting and looking at the vase,
    how seducing that may seem.