Zen Story: The Stingy Artist

zenGessen was an artist monk. Before he would start a drawing or painting he always insisted upon being paid in advance, and his fees were high. He was known as the “Stingy Artist.” A geisha once gave him a commission for a painting. “How much can you pay?” inquired Gessen. “‘Whatever you charge,” replied the girl, “but I want you to do the work in front of me.”
So on a certain day Gessen was called by the geisha. She was holding a feast for her patron. Gessen with fine brush work did the paining. When it was completed he asked the highest sum of his time. He received his pay. Then the geisha turned to her patron saying: “All this artist wants is money. His paintings are fine but his mind is dirty; money has caused it to become muddy. Drawn by such a filthy mind, his work is not fit to exhibit. It is just about good enough for one of my petticoats.” Removing her skirt, she then asked Gessen to do another picture on the back of her petticoat. “How much will you pay?” asked Gessen.
“Oh, any amount,” answered the girl. Gessen named a fancy price, painted the picture in the manner requested, and went away. It was learned later that Gessen had these reasons for desiring money: A ravaging famine often visited his province. The rich would not help the poor, so Gessen had a secret warehouse, unknown to anyone, which he kept filled with grain, prepared for these emergencies. From his village to the National Shrine the road was in very poor condition and many travelers suffered while traversing it. He desired to build a better road. His teacher had passed away without realizing his wish to build a temple, and Gessen wished to complete this temple for him. After Gessen had accomplished his three wishes he threw away his brushes and artist’s materials and, retiring to the mountains, never painted again.

5 thoughts on “Zen Story: The Stingy Artist

    • It’s a zen story so there doesn’t have to be a ‘moral’, that’s not what zen is about. Any interpretation you impose on it will be your interpretation alone. If you really want a moral to attach to this one, you can use ‘do not judge or label others’.


      • I’m really liking the Zen teachings/stories that you have posted. Keep them coming!


  1. Nice story! I must say that this story will be useful for me to keep in mind when dealing with people i have judged in the past for always wanting too much. Sometimes i have met some people who are always living on edge, working so hard and saving so much that i would believe that it was due to greed or simply not being grateful for what they have. That is not always true, of course, but sometimes it is hard to automatically walk in someone else’s shoes and understand his/her motives. I had already realized that there are many motives behind actions like that other than greed, but this story has strengthened my discovery and i must say that it feels good to believe that there can usually be a positive and selfless motive behind striving to have more money or accumulating certain things. Practicing empathy definitely can make one a better person, as well as better understanding the world around us. Anyways, that is what i got from this story. Thanks.


  2. Pingback: A Collection of Zen Stories | END OF THE GAME

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