P is for Problem

Delicate rose patterned vase Pictures, Images and Photos

The Porcelain Vase and the Rose  By Paulo Coelho

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.’


It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem.  –G.K. Chesterton

We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.  –Albert Einstein

When written in Chinese the word “crisis” is composed of two characters – one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.   –John F. Kennedy

It often happens that I wake up at night and begin to think about a serious problem and decide I must tell the Pope about it. Then I wake up completely and remember that I am the Pope.      — Blessed Angelo Roncalli (Pope John XXIII)

I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle.  I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.  —  Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta


About Paul Wharton

I am a cradle Catholic, a native West Virginian, and a priest since April 24, 1982. Spiritual Direction has made a tremendous difference in my life and I encourage people to try it out. My motto is "Progress not perfection." I am grateful that God has done for me what I could not do for myself.
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3 Responses to P is for Problem

  1. Claire T. Lampert says:

    The vase may have been priceless but so were these words….I am printing it to take to my office (yes, I’m subbing back in my old Dept.!) for my director to read. We are facing a tough state on site review shortly and these words should help a lot.

  2. Great lesson. Thank you.

    God bless.

  3. sandscript02 says:

    Wonderful example! You’ve inspired me to tackle a challanging problem with courage.
    Thank you!

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