Who can remove the bell from the tiger's neck?

Zhang Ciyun
The obvious answer points to simple truths about problem-solving.
Zhang Ciyun

During the Southern Tang Dynasty (AD 937-975), a Chan Buddhist master known by his religious name Fadeng resided in a temple now known as Qingliang Temple in Nanjing, capital of east China’s Jiangsu Province.

Fadeng entered the temple as a monk when he was still a boy. He had a bold and forthright personality, and was mischievous about observing the rules of the temple. His peers, therefore, disdained him, but he found favor with the abbot Fayan Wenyi (AD 885-958), who created a major school of Chan Buddhism.

The abbot thought the boy monk, though naughty and wayward, was highly gifted and intelligent — destined to become an eminent monk someday.

One day, the abbot was giving a lecture on Buddhist sutras to the young monks in the temple. Suddenly, he asked them a question: “There’s a gold bell tied around the neck of a tiger. Who can untie and remove it?”

All the young monks looked at each other blankly, and none answered. Just then, the naughty boy monk returned to the temple after playing outside for half a day.

When the abbot asked the question again, Fadeng blurted out loudly, without thinking: “It must be the one who tied it around the tiger’s neck.”

Immediately, everyone there felt enlightened, and the abbot praised the boy monk profusely.

The young monk’s answer has come down through time as a popular Chinese idiom: jieling haixu xiling ren, which has two meanings.


jiě líng hái xū xì líng rén

First, it means that whoever created a problem should be responsible for solving it. Second, it means that one must discover the roots of a problem before looking to solve it.

The second meaning sounds akin to the English saying: “Every problem contains within itself the seeds of its own solution.”

Special Reports