The Tiger and the Strawberry

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❝ One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a vicious tiger. He ran, but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice... As he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing on the vine... Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He plucked it and popped it in his mouth... It was incredibly delicious, the best strawberry he ever had! ❞


Zen tales were often paradoxes, or riddles, that left to the reader what lessons to take out of it.

There are two most popular yet contrasting interpretations.

  • (1) Life is fleeting, the vine is a reminder, while the strawberry represents all of the amazing things around us, if we just live in the moment
  • (2) The fool is distracted by pleasure (the strawberry), learn to avoid fleeting temptations and pleasures and free yourself from dangerous situations.

Conclusion

❝ I've had many worries in my life, most of which never happened. ❞
Personally, I believe the first is the more valid interpretation.

A lot of Zen Buddhism was learning to live in the moment, and avoid the doubts and fears of the future. The philosophy came about, or was at least popularized and influenced by a much more brutal world than we have today. The stresses of living in feudal Japan, where a Samurai could be required to fight someone with a 3' razorblade, or required to commit ritual suicide, made living in the future "what if's" a path to unhappiness. And while Zen (Chan) Buddhism predates that time and location, it was popularized there, because it was a required coping mechanism and lead to a better life.

So whether that was the original intent, or a later one, it is the most popular interpretation for a reason. But like many things in Zen, it does not have to be the exclusive interpretation.

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