Sometimes we work hard and come up empty. Sometimes it’s meant to be that way.
“The Empty Pot” is a Chinese story about hard work, trying to please someone else, and honestly being yourself.
The Emperor was old; he had no heir. And so he devised a plan to find the smartest boy in China to take his place when he died. Because he loved plants, the Emperor sent out a proclamation stating: “Any boy who wants to be king come to the palace to receive one royal seed. Whichever boy can show the best results within six months wins the contest and becomes the next to wear the crown.”
Every boy in China fancied he could win. People who knew boys who grew wonderful plants thought their son, brother, friend, kid down the street would win, and they would be guests at the palace.
Such a boy was Jun, he grew the best vegetables in his village. He could always be found in his garden caring for the plants. Carefully Jun carried home the royal seed. He planted it after preparing a large pot with good drainage and rich soil. Each day he waited for the baby plant to appear. But to no avail.
Other boys in Jun’s village announced their seeds were growing. But still nothing sprouted in Jun’s pot. More and more boys reported their seeds were growing. Jun repotted his seed, yet it still lay dormant and did not grow.
After six months it was time for the boys to take their plants to the Emperor. Jun was ashamed that nothing had grown in his pot. He asked his parents, “What should I do?”
His parents answered, “Take your pot to the Emperor. You did the best you could.”
So shamefaced Jun took his empty pot and walked to the palace amid the other boys whose pots sprouted all manner of strong healthy plants. In the courtyard the boys lined up in rows. Then the Emperor, dressed in fine silks, strode out of the palace. He looked at all the fine plants with a scowl on his face. When he got to Jun, he stared at the empty pot before asking, “What is this, you’ve brought me an empty pot? Where’s the plant you were supposed to grow?”
Jun hung his head and answered in a small voice, “I am sorry Your Majesty. I did the best I could. I planted your seed in good soil, the best I could find. I watered it enough to keep the soil moist but not wet. Every day I looked for the seed to sprout. When it did not grow, I repotted the seed in new soil and then did it all over again a third time. But it just won’t grow. I’m sorry.”
“Hmmm,” replied the Emperor. Then turning toward the crowd he thundered, “I am not sure where all these other boys got their seeds. The seeds we passed out for the contest were cooked; so NOTHING could have grown from them!”
Then he smiled at Jun.
Then he smiled at Jun.
Who do you think became the next Emperor?