The Temple Renovation

"Once upon a time in ancient China, there was an emperor who wished to renovate an ancient temple in the capital city. He issued an imperial decree, and many groups came forward, all hoping to have the honor of working on this project.

"The emperor's ministers evaluated the groups and eliminated all but two from consideration. Then they reported to him, 'Your Majesty, we cannot decide which of the two remaining groups to choose. Each feels it should be the one to renovate the old temple, and each seems to have good reasons.'

" 'Bring them before me,' the emperor commanded. 'I shall render the final decision.'

"The first was a group of monks. They said, 'Your Majesty, no one cares about the temple like we do. Should you decide to grant us this honor, you can be certain that we will do everything possible to restore the temple to its former glory.'

"The second was a group of royal artisans. They said, 'Your Majesty, no one has professional expertise like we do. Renovation is what we have done for decades. No other group can do as good a job as we can. We feel it is only right and proper that we be given the honor.'

"The emperor considered at length, and then said, 'The ministers were right. It is indeed difficult to decide. Let me tell you how we shall proceed. South of the palace, there are two small temples that, like the old temple, have also fallen into disuse. I want you to renovate them. At the end of the third working day, I will come for an inspection. My final decision will be based solely on the merits of your work.'

"The ministers took the two groups to the small temples. They assigned one temple to each group, and made sure both groups had all the supplies they needed.

"After three days, the emperor came to judge the two groups. Accompanied by the ministers, he walked to the artisans' temple, and saw that it was beautiful. All the walls and the roof had been completely repainted. This was done with a skillful selection of bright colors, which seemed to glow and command attention. Inside, all the furniture had been rebuilt. Everything looked brand new.

"The emperor praised the artisans. 'This is much more than I expected. Now I see what you mean by being the best at what you do. You have made this temple spectacular!'

"The artisans were ecstatic to hear this. They bowed to the emperor to thank him, and then they looked at one another and smiled. With such lavish praise coming from the emperor, their victory was all but guaranteed.

"Then, the emperor and the ministers walked to the other temple. Still feeling impressed by the artisans, they all thought it would be impossible for the monks to match such a high level of professional skill.

"When the monks' temple came into view, they were not prepared for what they saw. The monks did not repaint their temple at all. Instead, they cleaned everything with meticulous attention to detail. The walls showed the colors that had faded over the years, displaying an unexpected beauty beyond description. Free of the dust and dirt that obscured it before, the temple stood revealed in its original style and ancient character.

"They walked inside and saw that all the furniture had been carefully polished to a mirror finish. The doors and windows were open, so the colors of the sunset illuminated everything as if they were part of the temple. They could see that outside there were trees swaying in the wind and clouds floating in the sky. Everything seemed to belong together, like a painting coming to life. Rather than to demand their attention, this temple seemed to be perfectly at peace, accepting everything in a state of serenity.

"The emperor was deeply moved. He turned to the ministers and saw that everyone felt the same way. There was no need to say anything. It was obvious that the emperor had made his final decision."