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On Monday a novice asked master Banzen: What is the greatest aspiration? Banzen replied: to know all that can be known, so that one’s code may never be improved upon. On Tuesday another novice asked Banzen: What is the greatest aspiration? Banzen replied: to be surrounded always by colleagues whose knowledge is more extensive, so that one may be in a continual state of improvement. On Wednesday a third novice observed that the answers were mutually exclusive; indeed, they were almost exact opposites. Banzen replied: that is so. The novice, thinking he had the upper hand, then asked Banzen how one should set about attaining the greatest aspiration. Irritated, Banzen replied: on Monday I was asked the greatest positive number; on Tuesday, the number half its size. I answered each question in one breath. But if I must show you how to count to either, the moon will turn to sand before we have barely begun. The novice bowed in shame and left. A gardener—who had been pruning the bonsai tree on Banzen’s table—confessed that he did not understand how the novice could be found in error, for the questions on Monday and Tuesday were indeed identical. Banzen replied: that bonsai needs water, as does the oak outside my window.
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