Zen Koans seem like paradoxes at first. The reason is that Koans are not meant to be understood by the intellect, but by intuition. Pondering over these riddles can help us unravel greater truths about our world and ourselves. This breakdown isn’t meant to substitute the insight the Koans are meant to invoke, but merely aid in getting there.
From “101 Zen Stories”:
” There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for over twenty years. She had built a little hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time.
To find out, she obtained the help of a girl rich in desire. “Go and embrace him,” she told her, “and then ask him suddenly: ‘What now?'”
The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it.
“An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter,” replied the monk somewhat poetically. “Nowhere is there any warmth.”
The girl returned and related what he had said.
“To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!” exclaimed the old woman in anger. “He showed no consideration for your needs, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he should have evidenced some compassion.”
She at once went to the hut of the monk and burned it down. “
When the monk replies,” An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter… Nowhere is there any warmth.” to the young girl, he was actually describing the nature of the relationship between him and his host.
He is the old tree growing on a cold rock (the old rock represents the old woman, who like a rock can provide support, but cannot itself grow). The winter implies the that he is in an enviornment where growth is difficult, like the old woman’s kindness, which carries no love (No-Loving Kindness)… it enables people to grow, but not as much as real loving kindness (or summer/spring).
The lack of warmth hints at the intentions of the old woman when she sent the young lady to embrace the monk. It was an act that lacked ‘warmth’, meaning her intentions were not pure. This is later evidenced by her extreme response, burning down his hut for not living up to her expectations.
Some people will choose to support you, as long as you live up to what they think is right for you. It is unclear whether or not the woman truly understood that the monk saw through her act and merely exposed it for what it was, which in turn enraged her.
Nevertheless, her reaction indicates that she didn’t want what’s best for him, but what she thought was best for him. It is important to understand whether one’s kindness carries love or not. At the very least, the woman should have inquired with the monk and tried to understand his actions, rather than jump to conclusions so impatiently.
In truth, she is the only person who has not grown, for without love no one grows. It works both ways, in giving and receiving love, that one grows, and the fact that she hasn’t grown more loving proves that her kindness lacked warmth.