The Tiger and the Cherry Tree

A young girl was walking through the fields when she noticed a tiger had spotted her. The tiger began to stalk her. She started to run, and the tiger hurried in pursuit. The young girl came upon a tree and scurried up. The Tiger came up to the trunk of the tree and began to climb toward the girl. So she climbed further up the tree, going out on a branch. As she moved out on the branch she was startled to see a poisonous snake.

The snake was slithering toward her. She looked behind, and the tiger was making progress up the tree. Suddenly she noticed she was in a cherry tree and there was a ripe cherry was right in front of her. She plucked the cherry, popped it into her mouth . . . and it was delicious.

What does this Zen story mean? It’s been told many ways, but the central facts are the same from telling to telling. There is danger behind, danger going forward, and the fruit is very tasty. In the Zen story, the tiger is the past, the snake is the future, and both are very threatening . However, the fruit is the present, and it is fine and wonderful.

I believe you can take the story a step further. As with the Zen lesson, there is no tiger and there is no snake, but perhaps there is also no cherry tree or luscious cherry. The cherry is part of the illusion that includes the tiger and the snake.

You can take it a step further yet: there is no young girl, for she is also part of the illusion. There is only consciousness which is neither tiger, nor snake, nor cherry, nor tree, nor young girl. All that exists is the taste, and it is delicious.

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4 thoughts on “The Tiger and the Cherry Tree

  1. This story kind of reminded me of one of my nightmares! Only there is usually no cherry, but I somehow always manage to save myself from the danger though, that is the good thing. As for the interpretation, to me, the stroy means that there will always be something dangerous lurking around, something to give us pain or make us suffer, at least as long as we are humans, that does not mean that there are not also beauty and wonders and joy, the challenge is to see all this beauty and enjoy it, and not let the dangers cloud our vision and distract us from that which brings joy. For me, that is the surprise element in the story, that the girl takes time to eat the cherry and to taste it and enjoy even when she is being threatened from all the sides, and is probably very very scared. She gives herself over to the beauty of the cherry, and for a moment, forgets the snake and the tiger. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂

  2. Thanks for your comment, Line. Your comments are always great. I’ve thought about this story since I first heard it in 1981. sometimes I think she picks the cherry out of habit, not out of presence of mind. Then, the surprise of the joyful flavor wakes her out of her danger.

    For a good number of years, I sadly thought the point of the story was that there was danger ahead and danger behind and that the cherry was a momentary distraction.

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