The old Zen master’s health was fading. Knowing his death was near, he announced to all the monks that he soon would be passing down his robe and rice bowl to appoint the next master of the monastery. His choice, he said, would be based on a contest. Anyone seeking the appointment was required to demonstrate his spiritual wisdom by submitting a poem.
The head monk, the most obvious successor, presented a poem that was well composed and insightful. All the monks anticipated his selection as their new leader. However, the next morning another poem appeared on the wall in the hallway, apparently written during the dark hours of the night. It stunned everyone with it’s elegance and profundity but no one knew who the author was. Determined to find this person, the old master began questioning all the monks. To his surprise, the investigation led to the rather quiet kitchen worker who pounded rice for the meals. Upon hearing the news, the jealous head monk and his comrades plotted to kill their rival. In secret, the old master passed down his robe and bowl to the rice pounder, who quickly fled from the monastery, later to become a widely renowned Zen teacher.