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A Parable from the East

By Fr. Barry Cairns

This parable originally comes from China, crossing over to Japan via the Korean peninsula. This loose translation of the Japanese version is by Columban Father Barry Cairns.

Once upon a time a young prince has an extensive and beautiful garden. Above all he loved “Bamboo’’ in his grove and used to visit him frequently. Bamboo reveled in his master’s attention. A slight breeze would come and bamboo would gracefully sway with sheer joy. The prince would experience peace of heart when he saw Bamboo’s graceful dance.

One day the prince visited Bamboo with a special request. “Bamboo, I need you to help me!”

“Anything, my master, anything you wish,” said Bamboo. And the Prince went on, “Bamboo, I must cut you down.” Hearing this, Bamboo trembled with shock. “Master, do you really mean it? You love me and now you intend to cut me down? Please don’t take my life away.”

The prince replied with tenderness, “Dear Bamboo, unless I cut you down, you cannot help me.”

Bamboo bowed his gracious head and whispered, “O dear Master, O my prince, I am yours; you may cut me down.”

The prince continued in a sad voice. “Bamboo, there is more. To help me, to really help me, I need to cut off your leaves and branches.”

Stunned, Bamboo replied, “O my master and my prince, cut me down but please spare me that indignity. Please spare me that.”

“But Bamboo,” said the prince, “if I do not cut and trim you, you cannot help me.”

“O Master, I give myself to you.”

Then the prince said tenderly, “My beloved Bamboo, I am asking you even more. I need to divide you in two and cut out your joints, your very heart.”

Humbled, Bamboo said with a sad heart, but one moved with love, “O my prince, I am yours. I trust you.”

So the Prince cut down Bamboo, trimmed his leaves, divided him in two to make a channel, placing him gently under a small waterfall.

Waterfall welcomed Bamboo, “Thank you for coming, Bamboo. Let us work together.” Water gurgled joyfully down the Bamboo’s channel and flowed into the Prince’s paddy fields. Rice was planted and the shoots grew from the once parched soil. They were given new life by the water from the falls but also by Bamboo’s part in bringing it.

When harvest day came, the prince and his people were so happy. It was on that day that Bamboo realized something. In his isolated grove he felt so stately and seemed to be happy. But now in his brokenness he was giving life to others. Such a life giving role gave Bamboo a deep sense of purpose and lasting happiness.


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