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.’