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Case 223

Hidden Costs

As punishment for implementing an unusual solution to a problem, the nun Satou had been ordered by master Banzen to pose motionless in the entryway of his office each day, pretending to be a coat stand.

Each new visitor that entered would invariably look about with puzzlement and ask what should be done with their coat. The master would then point wordlessly to Satou. Eventually the visitor would comprehend.

When one hundred visitors had come and gone, Banzen asked his apprentice whether she had served his guests well.

Satou replied, “Not one coat lay crumpled on the floor, dampened a chair, or burdened its owner.”

Banzen shook his head and ordered the nun to continue her services.

When another hundred visitors had come and gone, Banzen again asked his apprentice whether she had served his guests well.

Satou replied, “I stole from each.”

Banzen raised an eyebrow and asked, “What did you steal?”

“Alas!” cried Satou. “Now I have stolen from you as well!”

Banzen smiled and released the nun from her duties.

Qi’s commentary

Until this tale makes sense, I have stolen from you as well.
Alas, I know no better way to keep you from a life of crime.

Qi’s poem

Satou built a clock that lost a minute a day.
She hung it where forty million monks could see.
The next day she was sentenced to beheading—
The nun could not deny that she had stolen a life.