Zen Tales Collection

 


A Cup of Tea
NAN-IN, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912)), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the cup overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. "It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," Nan-in said, "you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"

 


A Parable
BUDDHA TOLD a parable in a sutra: A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge.
The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.
"How sweet it tasted", he said.

 


In the Hands of Destiny
A GREAT JAPANESE warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack the enemy although he had only one-tenth the number of men the opposition commanded. He knew that he would win, but his soldiers were in doubt.
On the way he stopped at a Shinto shrine and told his men: "After I visit the shrine I will toss a coin. If heads comes, we will win; if tails, we will lose. Destiny holds us in her hand."
Nobunaga entered the shrine and offered a silent prayer. He came forth and tossed a coin.
Heads appeared. His soldiers were so eager to fight that they won their battle easily. "No one can change the hand of destiny," his attendant told him after the battle.
"Indeed not," said Nobunaga, showing a coin which had been doubled, with heads facing either way.

 


Muddy Road
TANZAN AND EKIDO were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. "Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. "We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"
"I left the girl there," said Tanzan. "Are you still carrying her?"

 


No Work, No Food
HYAKUJO, THE CHINESE Zen master, used to labor with his pupils even at the age of eighty, trimming the gardens, cleaning the grounds, and pruning the trees.
The pupils felt sorry to see the old teacher working so hard, but they knew he would not listen to their advice to stop, so they hid away his tools.
That day the master did not eat. The next day he did not eat, nor the next.
"He may be angry because we have hidden his tools," the pupils surmised. "We had better put them back."
The day they did, the teacher worked and ate the same as before. In the evening he instructed them: "No work, no food."

 


Nothing Exists
YAMAOKA TESSHU, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.
"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?"

 


The Subjugation of a Ghost
A YOUNG WIFE fell sick and was about to die.
"I love you so much," she told her husband, "I do not want to leave you. Do not go from me to any other woman. If you do, I will return as a ghost and cause you endless trouble."
Soon the wife passed away. The husband respected her last wish for the first three months, but then he met another woman and fell in love with her. They became engaged to be married.
Immediately after the engagement a ghost appeared every night to the man, blaming him for not keeping his promise. The ghost was clever, too. She told him exactly what had transpired between himself and his new sweetheart.
Whenever he gave his fiancee a present, the ghost would describe it in detail. She would even repeat conversations, and it so annoyed the man that he could not sleep. Someone advised him to take his problem to a Zen master who lived close to the village. At length, in despair, the poor man went to him for help.
"Your former wife became a ghost and knows everything you do," commented the master. "Whatever you do or say, whatever you give your beloved, she knows. She must be a very wise ghost. Really you should admire such a ghost. The next time she appears, bargain with her. Tell her that she knows so much you can hide nothing from her, and that if she will answer you one question, you promise to break your engagement and remain single."
"What is the question I must ask her?" inquired the man.
The master replied: "Take a large handful of soy beans and ask her exactly how many beans you hold in your hand. If she cannot tell you, you will know she is only a figment of your imagination and will trouble you no longer."
The next night, when the ghost appeared the man flattered her and told her that she knew everything.
"Indeed," replied the ghost, "and I know you went to see that Zen master today."
"And since you know so much," demanded the man, "tell me how many beans I hold in this hand!"
In this exact moment, there was no longer any ghost to answer the question.

 


Real Prosperity
A RICH MAN asked Sengai to write something for the continued prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from generation to generation.
Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies."
The rich man became angry. "I asked you to write something for the happiness of my family! Why do you make such a joke as this?"
"No joke is intended," explained Sengai. "If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be broken-hearted. If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life. I call this real prosperity."

 


Holy Man
Word spread across the countryside about the wise Holy Man who lived in a small house atop the mountain. A man from the village decided to make the long and difficult journey to visit him. When he arrived at the house, he saw an old servant inside who greeting him at the door.
"I would like to see the wise Holy Man," he said to the servant. The servant smiled and led him inside. As they walked through the house, the man from the village looked eagerly around the house, anticipating his encounter with the Holy Man. Before he knew it, he had been led to the back door and escorted outside. He stopped and turned to the servant, "But I want to see the Holy Man!"
"You already have," said the old man. "Everyone you may meet in life, even if they appear plain and insignificant... see each of them as a wise Holy Man. If you do this, then whatever problem you brought here today will be solved."

 


The Gates of Paradise
A SOLDIER NAMED Nobushige came to Hakuin, and asked: "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"
"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.
"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.
"You, a soldier!" exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar."
Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: "So you have a sword ! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: "Here open the gates of hell!"
At these words the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
"Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.

 


Is That So?
A beautiful girl in the village was pregnant. Her angry parents demanded to know who was the father. At first resistant to confess, the anxious and embarrassed girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life. When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter's accusation, he simply replied:
"Is that so?"
When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin, who now was viewed as a pariah by the whole village. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility.
"Is that so?" Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child.
For many months he took very good care of the child until the daughter could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She confessed that the real father was a young man in the village whom she had tried to protect. The parents immediately went to Hakuin to see if he would return the baby. With profuse apologies they explained what had happened.
"Is that so?" Hakuin said as he handed them the child.

 


Right & Wrong
WHEN BANKEI held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled.
Bankei ignored the case.
Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.
When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him.
"You are wise brothers," he told them. "You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave."
A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished.

 


Christian Buddha
One of master Gasan's monks visited the university in Tokyo. When he returned, he asked the master if he had ever read the Christian Bible. "No," Gasan replied, "Please read some of it to me." The monk opened the Bible to the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew, and began reading. After reading Christ's words about the lilies in the field, he paused. Master Gasan was silent for a long time. "Yes," he finally said, "Whoever uttered these words is an enlightened being. What you have read to me is the essence of everything I have been trying to teach you here!"


  Consider the lilies of the field,
  how they grow;
  They toil not, neither do they spin;
  And yet I say unto you,
  that even Solomon in all his glory
  was not arrayed like one of these.

 


The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
RYOKAN, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him.
"You may have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."
The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon.
"Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

 


Equanimity
During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.
"You fool," he shouted as he reached for his sword, "don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!"
But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.
"And do you realize," the master replied calmly, "that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"

 


The Thief Who Became a Disciple
ONE EVENING as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding either his money or his life.
Shichiri told him:
"Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer." Then he resumed his recitation.
A little while afterwards he stopped and called:
"Don't take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow."
The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave.
"Thank a person when you receive a gift," Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off.
A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, among others, the offense against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said:
"This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him the money and he thanked me for it."
After he had finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.

 


True Reformation
RYOKAN DEVOTED his life to the study of Zen. One day he heard that his nephew, despite the admonitions of relatives, was spending his money on a courtesan. In as much as the nephew had taken Ryokan's place in managing the family estate and the property was in danger of being dissipated, the relatives asked Ryokan to do something about it.
Ryokan had to travel a long way to visit his nephew, whom he had not seen for many years. The nephew seemed pleased to meet his uncle again and invited him to remain overnight.
All night Ryokan sat in meditation. As he was departing in the morning he said to the young man: "I must be getting old, my hand shakes so. Will you help me tie the string of my straw sandal?"
The nephew helped him willingly. "Thank you," finished Ryokan, "you see, a man becomes older and feebler day by day. Take good care of yourself." Then Ryokan left, never mentioning a word about the courtesan or the complaints of the relatives. But, from that morning on, the dissipations of the nephew ended.

 


The Gift of Insults
There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.
One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.
Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior's challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.
Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. "How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?"
"If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it," the master replied, "to whom does the gift belong?"

 


Chasing Two Rabbits
A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question.
"I'd like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I'd like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?"
"The hunter who chases two rabbits," answered the master, "catches neither one."

 


The Most Important Teaching
A renowned Zen master said that his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. So impressed by how profound this idea was, one monk decided to leave the monastery and retreat to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.
One day he met another monk who was traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned that the traveler also had studied under the same Zen master.
"Please, tell me what you know of the master's greatest teaching."
The traveler's eyes lit up, "Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind."

 


Learning the Hard Way
The son of a master thief asked his father to teach him the secrets of the trade. The old thief agreed and that night took his son to burglarize a large house. While the family was asleep, he silently led his young apprentice into a room that contained a clothes closet. The father told his son to go into the closet to pick out some clothes. When he did, his father quickly shut the door and locked him in. Then he went back outside, knocked loudly on the front door, thereby waking the family, and quickly slipped away before anyone saw him. Hours later, his son returned home, bedraggled and exhausted.
"Father," he cried angrily, "Why did you lock me in that closet? If I hadn't been made desperate by my fear of getting caught, I never would have escaped. It took all my ingenuity to get out!"
The old thief smiled. "Son, you have had your first lesson in the art of burglary."

 


Gutei's Finger
Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would quietly raise one finger into the air. A young disciple began to imitate this behavior. Whenever he heard people asking him about Gutei's teachings, he would quietly raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy's mischief.
One day he called up the young disciple to his resting room and said,
"What is the Dharma-Buddha?"
The boy, pleased to demonstrate his own attainment regarding Gutei's teachings, proudly raised the finger.
Quickly, the master seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and began to run off, shocked, hurt and disappointed. But Gutei called out to him. When the boy turned to look, Gutei asked him again,
"What is the Dharma-Buddha?"
The boy raised his finger, but he didn't have the finger any more...
Silently Gutei raised his own finger into the air.
At that moment the boy became enlightened.

 


Going with the Flow
A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive.
"I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived."
(Some versions describe Confucius as witnessing this event. Also, in some versions, the old man explains how he has been jumping into the waterfall like this since he was a small boy. )

 


Dreaming
The great Taoist master Chuang Tzu once dreamt that he was a butterfly fluttering here and there. In the dream he had no awareness of his individuality as a person. He was only a butterfly. Suddenly, he awoke and found himself laying there, a person once again.
But then he thought to himself, "Was I before a man who dreamt about being a butterfly, or am I now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"

 


Egotism
The Prime Minister of the Tang Dynasty was a national hero for his success as both a statesman and military leader. But despite his fame, power, and wealth, he considered himself a humble and devout Buddhist. Often he visited his favorite Zen master to study under him, and they seemed to get along very well. The fact that he was prime minister apparently had no effect on their relationship, which seemed to be simply one of a revered master and respectful student.
One day, during his usual visit, the Prime Minister asked the master, "Your Reverence, what is egotism according to Buddhism?"
The master's face turned red, and in a very condescending and insulting tone of voice, he shot back:
"What kind of stupid question is that!?"
This unexpected response so shocked the Prime Minister that he became sullen and angry. The Zen master then smiled and said, "THIS, Your Excellency, is egotism."

 


Knowing Fish
One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were walking by a river.
"Look at the fish swimming about," said Chuang Tzu, "They are really enjoying themselves."
"You are not a fish," replied the friend, "So you can't truly know that they are enjoying themselves."
"You are not me," said Chuang Tzu. "So how do you know that I do not know that the fish are enjoying themselves?"

 


Full Awareness
After ten years of apprenticeship, Tenno achieved the rank of Zen teacher. One rainy day, he went to visit the famous master Nan-in. When he walked in, the master greeted him with a question, "Did you leave your wooden clogs and umbrella on the porch?"
"Yes," Tenno replied.
"Tell me," the master continued, "did you place your umbrella to the left of your shoes, or to the right?"
Tenno did not know the answer, and realized that he had not yet attained full awareness. So he became Nan-in's apprentice and studied under him for ten more years.

 


Concentration
After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer.
The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot.
"There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"
Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit.
"Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the safe ground.
Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.
"You have much skill with your bow," the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot."

 


Bell Teacher
A new student approached the Zen master and asked how he should prepare himself for his training. "Think of me a bell," the master explained. "Give me a soft tap, and you will get a tiny ping. Strike hard, and you'll receive a loud, resounding peal."

 


Elephant and Flea
Roshi Kapleau agreed to educate a group of psychoanalysts about Zen. After being introduced to the group by the director of the analytic institute, the Roshi quietly sat down upon a cushion placed on the floor. A student entered, prostrated before the master, and then seated himself on another cushion a few feet away, facing his teacher.
"What is Zen?" the student asked. The Roshi produced a banana, peeled it, and started eating.
"Is that all? Can't you show me anything else?" the student said.
"Come closer, please," the master replied. The student moved in and the Roshi waved the remaining portion of the banana before the student's face. The student prostrated, and left.
A second student rose to address the audience.
"Do you all understand?" When there was no response, the student added, "You have just witnessed a first-rate demonstration of Zen. Are there any questions?"
After a long silence, someone spoke up.
"Roshi, I am not satisfied with your demonstration. You have shown us something that I am not sure I understand. It must be possible to TELL us what Zen is."
"If you must insist on words," the Roshi replied, "then Zen is an elephant copulating with a flea."

 


Books
Once there was a well known philosopher and scholar who devoted himself to the study of Zen for many years. On the day that he finally attained enlightenment, he took all of his books out into the yard, and burned them all.

 


Masterpiece
A master calligrapher was writing some characters onto a piece of paper. One of his especially perceptive students was watching him. When the calligrapher was finished, he asked for the student's opinion - who immediately told him that it wasn't any good. The master tried again, but the student criticized the work again. Over and over, the calligrapher carefully redrew the same characters, and each time the student rejected it. Finally, when the student had turned his attention away to something else and wasn't watching, the master seized the opportunity to quickly dash off the characters. "There! How's that?," he asked the student. The student turned to look. "THAT.... is a masterpiece!" he exclaimed.
(Legend states this is the story behind master Kosen's creation of an ink template that was used to create the wood carving "The First Principle" that appears over the gate of Obaku Temple in Kyoto)

 


Searching for Buddha
A monk set off on a long pilgrimage to find the Buddha. He devoted many years to his search until he finally reached the land where the Buddha was said to live. While crossing the river to this country, the monk looked around as the boatman rowed. He noticed something floating towards them. As it got closer, he realized that it was the corpse of a person. When it drifted so close that he could almost touch it, he suddenly recognized the dead body - it was his own! He lost all control and wailed at the sight of himself, still and lifeless, drifting along the river's currents. That moment was the beginning of his liberation.

 


The Present Moment
A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen master came to him, "Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now." Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.

 


Practice Makes Perfect
A dramatic ballad singer studied under a strict teacher who insisted that he rehearse day after day, month after month the same passage from the same song, without being permitted to go any further. Finally, overwhelmed by frustration and despair, the young man ran off to find another profession. One night, stopping at an inn, he stumbled upon a recitation contest. Having nothing to lose, he entered the competition and, of course, sang the one passage that he knew so well. When he had finished, the sponsor of the contest highly praised his performance. Despite the student's embarrassed objections, the sponsor refused to believe that he had just heard a beginner perform. "Tell me," the sponsor said, "who is your instructor? He must be a great master." The student later became known as the great performer Koshiji.

 


Paradise
Two people are lost in the desert. They are dying from hunger and thirst. Finally, they come to a high wall. On the other side they can hear the sound of a waterfall and birds singing. Above, they can see the branches of a lush tree extending over the top of the wall. Its fruit looks delicious.
One of them manages to climb over the wall and disappears down the other side. The other, instead, returns to the desert to help other lost travelers find their way to the oasis.

 


Ritual Cat
When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice. Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up. Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.

 


The Nature of Things
Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?"
"Because," the monk replied, "to save it is my nature."
(Another version of this story describes a fox who agrees to carry a scorpion on its back across a river, upon the condition that the scorpion does not sting him. But the scorpion does indeed sting the fox when they are in midstream. As the fox begins to drown, taking the scorpion with him, he pleadingly asks why the scorpion has jeopardized both of them by stinging. "Because it's my nature." This story sometimes is attributed to Native Americans lore.)
In Brazil, the fox is replaced by a frog.

 


No More Questions
Upon meeting a Zen master at a social event, a psychiatrist decided to ask him a question that had been on his mind.
"Exactly how do you help people?" he inquired.
"I get them where they can't ask any more questions," the Master answered.

 


Not Dead Yet
The Emperor asked Master Gudo, "What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?"
"How should I know?" replied Gudo.
"Because you are a master," answered the Emperor.
"Yes sir," said Gudo, "but not a dead one."

 


Moving Mind
Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind.
"It's the wind that is really moving," stated the first one.
"No, it is the flag that is moving," contended the second.
A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them.
"Neither the flag nor the wind is moving," he said, "It is MIND that moves."

 


More Is Not Enough-The Stone Cutter
There was once a stone cutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life.
One day he passed a wealthy merchant's house. Through the open gateway, he saw many fine possessions and important visitors. "How powerful that merchant must be!" thought the stone cutter. He became very envious and wished that he could be like the merchant.
To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever imagined, but envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. Soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, accompanied by attendants and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. "How powerful that official is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a high official!"
Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around. It was a hot summer day, so the official felt very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. "How powerful the sun is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the sun!"
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, scorching the fields, cursed by the farmers and laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. "How powerful that storm cloud is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a cloud!"
Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and realized that it was the wind. "How powerful it is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be the wind!"
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, feared and hated by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it - a huge, towering rock. "How powerful that rock is!" he thought. "I wish that I could be a rock!"
Then he became the rock, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the hard surface, and felt himself being changed. "What could be more powerful than I, the rock?" he thought.
He looked down and saw far below him the figure of a stone cutter.

 


Maybe
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit.
"Such bad luck," they said sympathetically.
"May be," the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
"How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed.
"May be," replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.
"May be," answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son's leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
"May be," said the farmer.

 


Tea or Iron
The Zen master Hakuin used to tell his students about an old woman who owned a tea shop in the village. She was skilled in the tea ceremony, Hakuin said, and her understanding of Zen was superb. Many students wondered about this and went to the village themselves to check her out. Whenever the old woman saw them coming, she could tell immediately whether they had come to experience the tea, or to probe her grasp of Zen. Those wanting tea she served graciously. For the others wanting to learn about her Zen knowledge, she hid until they approached her door and then attacked them with a fire poker. Only one out of ten managed to escape her beating.

 


Nature's Beauty
A priest was in charge of the zengarden within a famous Zen temple. He had been given the job because he loved the flowers, shrubs, and trees. Next to the temple there was another, smaller temple where there lived a very old Zen master. One day, when the priest was expecting some special guests, he took extra care in tending to the garden. He pulled the weeds, trimmed the shrubs, combed the moss, and spent a long time meticulously raking up and carefully arranging all the dry autumn leaves. As he worked, the old master watched him with interest from across the wall that separated the temples.
When he had finished, the priest stood back to admire his work.
"Isn't it beautiful," he called out to the old master.
"Yes," replied the old man, "but there is something missing. Help me over this wall and I'll put it right for you."
After hesitating, the priest lifted the old fellow over and set him down. Slowly, the master walked to the tree near the center of the garden, grabbed it by the trunk, and shook it. Leaves showered down all over the garden. "There," said the old man, "you can put me back now."

 


Just Two Words
There once was a monastery that was very strict. Following a vow of silence, no one was allowed to speak at all. But there was one exception to this rule. Every ten years, the monks were permitted to speak just two words. After spending his first ten years at the monastery, one monk went to the head monk. "It has been ten years," said the head monk. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"
"Bed... hard..." said the monk.
"I see," replied the head monk.
Ten years later, the monk returned to the head monk's office. "It has been ten more years," said the head monk. "What are the two words you would like to speak?"
"Food... stinks..." said the monk.
"I see," replied the head monk.
Yet another ten years passed and the monk once again met with the head monk who asked, "What are your two words now, after these ten years?"
"I... quit!" said the monk.
"Well, I can see why," replied the head monk. "All you ever do is complain."
( This story is a favorite in many western monasteries. It may or may not be an original Zen tale. Like any good anecdote, it makes us laugh, but also encourages us to think about why it is funny .)

 


Dust
Chao-chou (Joshu) was sweeping off the dirty floor when a monk asked him:
"Wise and holy Master, please tell me how can dust to be gathered so much on his yard like that?"
The master said,
"It comes from out there."

 


Spider
A Tibetan story tells of a meditation student who, while meditating in his room, believed he saw a spider descending in front of him. Each day the menacing creature returned, growing larger and larger each time. So frightened was the student, that he went to his teacher to report his dilemma. He said he planned to place a knife in his lap during meditation, so when the spider appeared he would kill it. The teacher advised him against this plan. Instead, he suggested, bring a piece of chalk to meditation, and when the spider appeared, mark an "X" on its belly. Then report back.
The student returned to his meditation. When the spider again appeared, he resisted the urge to attack it, and instead did just what the master suggested. When he later reported back to the master, the teacher told him to lift up his shirt and look at his own belly. There was the "X".

 


True Self
A distraught man approached the Zen master.
"Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don't know who I am. Please, show me my true self!"
But the teacher just looked away without responding. The man began to plead and beg, but still the master gave no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turned to leave. At that moment the master called out to him by name.
"Yes?" the man said as he spun back around.
"There it is!" exclaimed the master.

 


Wanting God
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him. "Master, I wish to become your disciple," said the man. "Why?" replied the hermit. The young man thought for a moment. "Because I want to find God."
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath. When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke. "Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water."
"Air!" answered the man.
"Very well," said the master. "Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air."

 


The Sound of the Silence
Once there was a buddhist who went to the mountains to seek a great master whom, he believed, could give him the definite answer regarding Wisdom. After many days of walk he found him in a beautiful temple on the edge of a beautiful valley.
"Master, I came here to ask for a word about the meaning of Dharma. Please, make me cross the Gates of Zen."
''Tell me," replied the wise man, "when you were coming here, did you walk through the valley?"
"Yes."
"Did you by any chance hear its sound?"
Somewhat confused, the man said:
"Well, I heard the sound of the wind as a soft song penetrating all the valley."
The wise man answered:
"The place where you heard the sound of the valley is where the road that takes to the Gates of Zen begins. And this sound is the only word that you need to hear about the Truth."

 


Self-Control
One day there was an earthquake that shook the entire Zen temple. Parts of it even collapsed. Many of the monks were terrified. When the earthquake stopped the teacher said, "Now you have had the opportunity to see how a Zen man behaves in a crisis situation. You may have noticed that I did not panic. I was quite aware of what was happening and what to do. I led you all to the kitchen, the strongest part of the temple. It was a good decision, because you see we have all survived without any injuries. However, despite my self-control and composure, I did feel a little bit tense - which you may have deduced from the fact that I drank a large glass of water, something I never do under ordinary circumstances."
One of the monks smiled, but didn't say anything.
"What are you laughing at?" asked the teacher.
"That wasn't water," the monk replied, "it was a large glass of soy sauce."

 


Don't talk
Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out.
The first monk said, "Oh, no! The candle is out."
The second monk said, "Aren't we not suppose to talk?"
The third monk said, "Why must you two break the silence?"
The fourth monk laughed and said, "Ha! I'm the only one who didn't speak."

 


No Problem
A Zen student came to Bankei and complained:
"Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?"
"You have something very strange," replied Bankei. "Let me see what you have."
"Just now I cannot show it to you," replied the other.
"When can you show it to me?" asked Bankei.
"It arises unexpectedly," replied the student.
"Then," concluded Bankei, "it must not be your true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time. When you were born you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to you. Think that over."

 


Transient
A famous spiritual teacher came to the front door of the King's palace. None of the guards tried to stop him as he entered and made his way to where the King himself was sitting on his throne.
"What do you want?" asked the King, immediately recognizing the visitor.
"I would like a place to sleep in this inn," replied the teacher.
"But this is not an inn," said the King, "It is my palace."
"May I ask who owned this palace before you?"
"My father. He is dead."
"And who owned it before him?"
"My grandfather. He too is dead."
"And this place where people live for a short time and then move on - did I hear you say that it is NOT an inn?"

 


Buddha - Beyond the words
There once was Buddha sitting under a tree, with his pupils gathered around hoping he began his speech. In certain moment, Buddha calmly leaned and picked up a flower. He lifted it to the height of his face and rotated it smoothly. The pupils were frightened and confused, and they murmured questioning the sense of that to each other. From among them, only Kashyapa understood the gesture, smiling. Shakyamuni Buddha noticed that Kashyapa had understood, and told him:
"The method of Meditation that I teach is to see the things as they are, to reject nothing and to treat the things with happiness, seeing its original face clearly. That mysterious Dharma transcends the language and the rational beginnings. The logical thought cannot be used to obtain the Understanding; just with the sensibility of the no-mind one can reach the Truth. You've understood. That, I grant you starting from this moment the spirit of Dhyana".

 


A Useless Life
A farmer got so old that he couldn't work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch. His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there.
"He's of no use any more," the son thought to himself, "he doesn't do anything!"
One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wood coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in. Without saying anything, the father climbed inside. After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff. As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son.
"I know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?"
"What is it?" replied the son.
"Throw me over the cliff, if you like," said the father, "but save this good wood coffin. Your children might need to use it."

 


When Tired
A student once asked his teacher, "Master, what is enlightenment?"
The master replied, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep."

 


Tea Combat
A master of the tea ceremony in old Japan once accidentally slighted a soldier. He quickly apologized, but the rather impetuous soldier demanded that the matter be settled in a sword duel. The tea master, who had no experience with swords, asked the advice of a fellow Zen master who did possess such skill. As he was served by his friend, the Zen swordsman could not help but notice how the tea master performed his art with perfect concentration and tranquility. "Tomorrow," the Zen swordsman said, "when you duel the soldier, hold your weapon above your head, as if ready to strike, and face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you perform the tea ceremony."
The next day, at the appointed time and place for the duel, the tea master followed this advice. The soldier, readying himself to strike, stared for a long time into the fully attentive but calm face of the tea master. Finally, the soldier lowered his sword, apologized for his arrogance, and left without a blow being struck.

 


Surprising the Master
The students in the monastery were in total awe of the elder monk, not because he was strict, but because nothing ever seemed to upset or ruffle him. So they found him a bit unearthly and even frightening. One day they decided to put him to a test. A bunch of them very quietly hid in a dark corner of one of the hallways, and waited for the monk to walk by. Within moments, the old man appeared, carrying a cup of hot tea. Just as he passed by, the students all rushed out at him screaming as loud as they could. But the monk showed no reaction whatsoever. He peacefully made his way to a small table at the end of the hall, gently placed the cup down, and then, leaning against the wall, cried out with shock, "Ohhhhh!"

 


Working Very Hard
A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it." The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?" The teacher thought for a moment, "20 years."
(in other versions of this story, the student says he is eager to attain "enlightenment")

 


The Humankind's History
It is said that in old Pérsia lived a king called Zemir. Crowned very young, he felt in the obligation of instructing, so he gathered around himself numerous erudites coming of all the countries and asked them that published for him the humanity's history. All the erudites concentrated, therefore, in the task.
Twenty years were spent in the preparing of the edition. Finally, they went to palace, loaded of five hundred volumes accommodated in the back of twelve camels.
King Zemir was, then, past of the forty years old.
"I am already old," he said. "I won't have time of reading all this before my death. In those conditions, please, get ready a summarized edition."
For more twenty years the erudites worked in the making of the books and they returned to the palace with only three camels.
But the king had aged a lot. With almost sixty years, he felt weak:
"It is not possible to read all those books. Please, do me a version still briefer ".
The erudites laboured more ten years and later they returned with an elephant loaded of its works.
But then, with more than seventy years, almost blind, the king could not read. He asked, then, an edition still abbreviated. The erudites had also aged. They concentrated for more five years and, moments before the monarch's death, they returned with a single volume.
"I will die, therefore, without know anything of the Humankind's history..." he said.
To his head, the erudites' senior answered:
"I will explain to you in few words the Humankind's history: the man is born, suffers and, finally, he dies."
In that instant the king expired.

 


BASO AND THE PRACTICE OF MEDITATION
When young, Baso practised Meditation unceasingly. On a certain occasion, his Master Nangaku approached him and asked, "Why do you practise so much Meditation?"
"To become a Buddha," said Baso.
The Master took of a tile and began to scrub it with a stone. Bestirred, Baso asked: "What do you wanna make with that tile?"
"I intend to turn it into a mirror," replied Nangaku.
"But no matter how much you scrub it, it will never become a mirror! It will always be a stone!"
"I can say the same of you. No matter how much you practise Meditation, you won't become a Buddha."
"Then what do I do?" asked the pupil.
"It is as making an ox walk."
"I don't understand you, master."
"When you want to make an oxcart move, do you hit the ox or the cart?"
Baso didn't know what to answer and so the Master continued:
"To look for the State of Buddha just by practising Meditation is to kill Buddha. You won't find the right way like that."

 


Ambition
In old China, a magic hermit called Senrin lived in a deep mountainous valley. One day, an old friend went to visit him. Senrin, very happy for see him, offered a dinner and a shelter for the night; in the next morning, before the friend's departure, the hermit wanted give him a gift. He picked up a stone and, with the finger, transformed it into a block of pure gold.
The friend was not satisfied; Senrin aimed the finger for a huge boulder, which also was turned to gold.
The friend continued without smiling.
"What do you want then?" asked Senrin.
The other man said,
"Cut off your finger, I want it."

 


Joshu Washes the Bowl
A monk told Joshu: `I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.'
Joshu asked: `Have you eaten your rice porridge?'
The monk replied: `I have eaten.'
Joshu said: `Then you had better wash your bowl.'

 


Come...
Master Tokusan (742-865) was doing zazen by the river. Approaching the margin, a pupil shouted,
"Good morning, Master! How are you?"
Tokusan interrupted the zazen and, using his fan, signed to the pupil:
Come. . . come. . . !
He got up, turned around and began to walk along the river, following the course of the water...
The pupil, at that moment, reached enlightenment.

 


Zen Mind, Ecological Mind
A pupil asked his Zen Master:
"How can I make that the mountains, the rivers and the great Earth benefit me?"
The master answered:
"You should benefit the mountains, the rivers and the great Earth."

 


Where does the Way begin?
One day, a pupil went to master Kian-fang and asked him:
"All the directions take to the Buddha's Way, but just one drives to the Nirvana. Please, master, where does this Way begin?
The old master made a risk in the ground with his stick and said:
"Here."

 


It Will Pass
A student went to his meditation teacher and said, "My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I'm constantly falling asleep. It's just horrible!"
"It will pass," the teacher said matter-of-factly.
A week later, the student came back to his teacher. "My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It's just wonderful!'
"It will pass," the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

 


Who are you?
The Master Ma-ku once called his pupil:
"Liang-sui!"
The other monk answered:
"Yes?"
After hearing this, the master called again:
"Liang-sui!"
The pupil said:
"Yes!"
For the third time the master said:
"Liang-sui!"
The pupil, confused, answered:
"I'm here, master!"
After a pause in silence, the sage exclaimed for his student:
"How foolish you are!"
When hearing that Liang-sui reached the Satori, and affirmed:
"Master, I won't make such a mistake any more. If I had not looked for you as my teacher, I would have been taken miserably, during all my life, to the sutras and the sastras!"
Later, some companions of Liang-sui asked him:
"What do you know about Buddha's teachings?"
Liang-sui answered:
"Everything that you know, I know too. But what I know, none of you are able to know."

 


Mind and No-Mind
A monk asked Ta-chu:
"Are the words the Mind?"
"No, the words are external conditions. They are not the Mind," the master said.
"So where, out of the external conditions, can we find the Mind?"
"There is no Mind beyond the words," replied Ta-chu.
"Not having a Mind independent of the words, what is the Mind after all?" asked the monk, bestirred.
"The Mind is without form and without images. Truly, it neither depends nor is independent of the words. It is eternally calm and free in its movement."

 


The Old Woman and The Buddha
There was an old woman that lived at the east side of the city in that Buddha also lived. She had been born at the same time and year of Buddha's birth, and she had lived all his life accompanying the story of His life. However, she never wanted to see him, or to speak with him. Whenever she heard that Buddha approached, she escaped from his presence, trying for all the manners to avoid the Buddha's look, running for here and for there, hiding.
But one day, she was in a place from where she couldn't leave or to hide. Buddha approached, and the old woman, despaired in his terror of finding such man, no longer knew what to do. Then, in the last moment, she made the only possible thing to avoid to see Buddha: she raised both hands ahead of his face, consealing his vision.
At this moment, marvelously, the face of Buddha appeared among each one of his ten fingers.
Koan: The condition of Buddha represents the absolute statement (Dharma). One cannot escape from the Truth, because it will be to each step of his road. Therefore, who is this old woman?

 


The Killing of a Cat
In the monastery of Nan-Ch'uan (748-834 A.D.), the monks of the oriental row discussed with the ones of the western row, in the middle of the meditation dojo, about the ownership of a kitten. Amid the confusion the master arrives, quietly grabbed the cat and lifted it. The monks stopped in silence, and the master said:
"Can someone say something to save the life of this poor animal?"
Nobody knew what to say. The master simply twists the neck of the cat, killing it. He split it in two, and throws a part in the direction of each group of lonely monks.
Later, when Chao-chou came back of a trip, he heard of some monks the report of the event. Near, Nan-Ch'uan observed the chat. One of the monks asked Chao-chou then:
"What would you have made to save the cat?"
Chao-chou said nothing, took off the sandals, placed it on the head, and start walking. At this moment Nan-Ch'uan appeared and said:
"If you had been here on that occasion, you would have been able to save that kitten".
Koan: What means "mine" and "yours"?

 


Happiness
The monk Shou-duan was very diligent, but he didn't have sense of humor. He practiced Zen in a rigid and moralist way, and he was unable to guide himself by the happiness. One day his master, called Yang-ki, asked:
"Who was his previous master?"
"The monk Chaling Yu ", he answered.
"Did I hear to say that he obtained Satori when he slipped out of a bridge and dropped in the water, and that he even wrote a poem about it, isn't that so?"
"Yes," answered Shou-duan, "and I still remember the poem:
'I have a brilliant pearl
That for a long time was obscured by the dust;
Now the dust left
And the shine returned
Illuminating the rivers and the hills.'"
Hearing that, master Yang-ki burst out laughing, laughing without stopping. The monk Shou-duan was astonished. He didn't understand the reason of so much happiness. Along that night he was unable to sleep, thinking of what could have been so funny in all that. The next day he went to the master's presence and asked him:
"Why did you laugh so much when hearing the poem that I recited yesterday? I don't understand what can be so funny!"
The master said:
"Yesterday a clown was here, performing a pantomime. Do you remember that?"
"Yes, I do."
"So there is an aspect in him that is completely superior to his spirit ".
Bestirred, the monk answered: "And which aspect does a clown possess more deeply than I?"
"He likes when people laugh, and you are afraid when they are laughing..."
Hearing that, the monk obtained the Satori.

 


Zen Cow
Shih-kung once was working in the kitchen when Ma-tsu come closer and ask him what he's doing.
"I'm taking care of the Cow," he said while washing the bowls.
"And how do you care for it?", the master ask.
"If it go astray, I lead it back to the Path by its nose. I cannot amuse not even one minute!"
Ma-tsu said:
"You really knows how to take care of it."

 


It is Not Mind, It is Not Buddha, It is Not Things
A monk asked Nansen: `Is there a teaching no master ever preached before?'
Nansen said: `Yes, there is.'
`What is it?' asked the monk.
Nansen replied: `It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.'

 


Joshu's Dog
A monk asked Chao-chou (japanese: Joshu), a Chinese Zen master: "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?"
Chao-chou answered: "Wu!"

 


Hyakujo's Fox
Once when Hyakujo delivered some Zen lectures an old man attended them, unseen by the monks. At the end of each talk when the monks left so did he. But one day he remained after the had gone, and Hyakujo asked him: `Who are you?'
The old man replied: `I am not a human being, but I was a human being when the Kashyapa Buddha preached in this world. I was a Zen master and lived on this mountain. At that time one of my students asked me whether the enlightened man is subject to the law of causation. I answered him: "The enlightened man is not subject to the law of causation." For this answer evidencing a clinging to absoluteness I became a fox for five hundred rebirths, and I am still a fox. Will you save me from this condition with your Zen words and let me get out of a fox's body? Now may I ask you: Is the enlightened man subject to the law of causation?'
Hyakujo said: `The enlightened man is one with the law of causation.'
At the words of Hyakujo the old man was enlightened. `I am emancipated,' he said, paying homage with a deep bow. `I am no more a fox, but I have to leave my body in my dwelling place behind this mountain. Please perform my funeral as a monk.' The he disappeared.
The next day Hyakujo gave an order through the chief monk to prepare to attend the funeral of a monk. `No one was sick in the infirmary,' wondered the monks. `What does our teacher mean?'
After dinner Hyakujo led the monks out and around the mountain. In a cave, with his staff he poked out the corpse of an old fox and then performed the ceremony of cremation.
That evening Hyakujo gave a talk to the monks and told this story about the law of causation.
Obaku, upon hearing this story, asked Hyakujo: `I understand that a long time ago because a certain person gave a wrong Zen answer he became a fox for five hundred rebirths. Now I was to ask: If some modern master is asked many questions, and he always gives the right answer, what will become of him?'
Hyakujo said: `You come here near me and I will tell you.'
Obaku went near Hyakujo and slapped the teacher's face with this hand, for he knew this was the answer his teacher intended to give him.
Hyakujo clapped his hands and laughed at the discernment. `I thought a Persian had a red beard,' he said, `and now I know a Persian who has a red beard.'

 


Kyogen Mounts the Tree
Kyogen said: `Zen is like a man hanging in a tree by his teeth over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the three another person asks him: `Why does Bodhidharma come to China from India?'
`If the man in tree does not answer, he fails; and if he does answer, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?'

 


Buddha Twirls a Flower
When Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain he turned a flower in his fingers and held in before his listeners. Every one was silent. Only Maha-Kashyapa smiled at this revelation, although he tried to control the lines of his face.
Buddha said: 'I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the true aspect of non-form, and the ineffable stride of Dharma. It is not expressed by words, but especially transmitted beyond teaching. This teaching I have given to Maha-Kashyapa.'

 


Keichu's Wheel
Getsuan said to this students:
'Keichu, the first wheel-maker of China, made two wheels of fifty spokes each. Now, suppose you removed the nave uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel?
And had Keichu done this, could he be called the master wheel-maker?'

 


A Buddha Before History
A monk asked Seijo: `I understand that a Buddha who lived before recorded history sat in meditation for ten cycles of existence and could not realize the highest truth, and so could not become fully emancipated. Why was this so?'
Seijo replied: `Your question is self-explanatory.'
The monk asked: `Since the Buddha was meditating, why could he not fulfill Buddahood?'
Seijo said: `He was not a Buddha.'

 


Seizei Alone and Poor
A monk named Seizei asked of Sozan: `Seizei is alone and poor. Will you give him support?'
Sozan asked: `Seizei?'
Seizei responded: `Yes, sir.'
Sozan said: `You have Zen, the best wine in China, and already have finished three cups, and still you are saying that they did not even wet your lips.'

 


Chao-chou Examines a Monk in Meditation
Chao-chou went to a place were a monk had retired to meditate and asked him: `What is, is what?'
The monk raised his fist.
Chao-chou replied: `Ships cannot remain where the water is too shallow.' And he left.
A few days later Chao-chou went again to visit the monk and asked the same question.
The monk answered the same way.
Chao-chou said: `Well given, well taken, well killed, well save.' And he bowed to the monk.

 


Shi-yan Calls His Own Master
Shi-yan called out to himself every day: `Master.'
Then he answered himself: `Yes, sir.'
And after that he added: `Become sober.'
Again he answered: `Yes, sir.'
'And after that,' he continued, `do not be deceived by others.'
'Yes, sir; yes, sir,' he answered.

 


Tokusan Holds His Bowl
Tokusan went to the dining room from the meditation hall holding his bowl. Seppo was on duty cooking. When he met Tokusan he said: `The dinner drum is not yet beaten. Where are you going with your bowl?'
So Tokusan returned to his room.
Seppo told Ganto about this. Ganto said: `Old Tokusan did not understand the ultimate truth.'
Tokusan heard of this remark and asked Ganto to come to him. `I have heard,' he said, `you are not approving my Zen.' Ganto admitted this indirectly. Tokusan said nothing.
The next day Tokusan delivered an entirely different kind of lecture to the monks. Ganto laughed and clapped his hands, saying: `I see our old man understands the ultimate truth indeed. None in China can surpass him.'

 


Dok Sahn Carrying His Bowls (Other Version)
One day, Zen Master Dok Sahn entered the Dharma Room carrying his bowls. The Housemaster, Sol Bong, said
"Old Master, the bell has not been rung, and the drum has not yet been struck. Where are you going, carrying your bowls?" At this, Dok Sahn returned to the Master's room. Sol Bong told the Head Monk, Am Du, what had happened.
"Great Master Dok Sahn does not understand the last word," Am Du said.
Dok Sahn heard of this and sent for Am Du. "Do you not approve of me?" he demanded. Then Am Du whispered in the Master's ear. Dok Sahn was relieved.
The next day, delivering his Dharma talk from the high rostrum, Dok Sahn was really different from before. Am Du went to the front of the Dharma room, laughed loudly, clapped his hands, and said, "Great Joy! The old Master has understood the last word! From now on, no one can check him."

 


Tozan's Three Blows
Tozan went to Ummon. Ummon asked him where he had come from.
Tozan said: `From Sato village.'
Ummon asked: `In what temple did you remain for the summer?'
Tozan replied: `The temple of Hoji, south of the lake.'
`When did you leave there?' asked Ummon, wondering how long Tozan would continue with such factual answers.
`The twenty-fifth of August,' answered Tozan.
Ummon said: `I should give you three blows with a stick, but today I forgive you.' The next day Tozan bowed to Ummon and asked: `Yesterday you forgave me three blows. I do not know why you thought me wrong.'
Ummon, rebuking Tozan's spiritless responses, said: `You are good for nothing. You simply wander from one monastery to another.'
Before Ummon's words were ended Tozan was enlightened.

 


Bells and Robes
Ummon asked: `The world is such a wide world, why do you answer a bell and don ceremonial robes?'

 


The Three Calls of the Emperor's Teacher
Chu, called Kokushi, the teacher of the emperor, called to his attendant: `Oshin.'
Oshin answered: `Yes.'
Chu repeated, to test his pupil: `Oshin.'
Oshin repeated: `Yes.'
Chu called: `Oshin.'
Oshin answered: `Yes.'
Chu said `I ought to apologize for you for all this calling, but really you ought to apologize to me.'

 


Tozan's Three Pounds
A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: `What is Buddha?'
Tozan said: `This flax weighs three pounds.'

 


Everyday Life is the Path
Joshu asked Nansen: `What is the path?'
Nansen said: `Everyday life is the path.'
Joshu asked: `Can it be studied?'
Nansen said: `If you try to study, you will be far away from it.'
Joshu asked: `If I do not study, how can I know it is the path?'
Nansen said: `The path does not belong to the perception world, neither does it belong to the nonperception world. Cognition is a delusion and noncognition is senseless. If you want to reach the true path beyond doubt, place yourself in the same freedom as sky. You name it neither good nor not-good.'
At these words Joshu was enlightened.

 


The Enlightened Man
Shogen asked: `Why does the enlightened man not stand on his feet and explain himself?' And he also said: `It is not necessary for speech to come from the tongue.'

 


Dried Dung
A monk asked Ummon: `What is Buddha?'
Ummon answered him: `Dried dung.'

 


Kashyapa's Preaching Sign
Anada asked Kashyapa: `Buddha gave you the golden-woven robe of successorship. What else did he give you?'
Kashyapa said: `Ananda!'
Ananda answered: `Yes, brother.'
Said Kashyapa: `Now you can take down my preaching sign and put up your own.'

 


Do Not Think Good, Do Not Think Not-Good
When he became emancipated the sixth patriach received from the fifth patriach the bowl and robe given from the Buddha to his successors, generation after generation.
A monk named E-myo out of envy pursued the patriach to take this great treasure away from him. The sixth patriach placed the bowl and robe on a stone in the road and told E-myo: `These objects just symbolize the faith. There is no use fighting over them. If you desire to take them, take them now.'
When E-myo went to move the bowl and robe they were as heavy as mountains. He could not budge them. Trembling for shame he said: `I came wanting the teaching, not the material treasures. Please teach me.'
The sixth patriach said: `When you do not think good and when you do not think not-good, what is your true self?'
At these words E-myo was illumined. Perspiration broke out all over his body. He cried and bowed, saying: `You have given me the secret words and meanings. Is there yet a deeper part of the teaching?'
The sixth patriach replied: `What I have told you is no secret at all. When you realize your true self the secret belongs to you.'
E-myo said: `I was under the fifth patriach for many years but could not realize my true self until now. Through your teaching I find the source. A person drinks water and knows himself whether it is cold or warm. May I call you my teacher?'
The sixth patriach replied: `We studied together under the fifth patriach. Call him your teacher, but just treasure what you have attained.'

 


Without Words, Without Silence
A monk asked Fuketsu: `Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?'
Fuketsu observed: `I always remember spring-time in southern China. The birds sign among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.'

 


Preaching from the Third Seat
In a dream Kyozen went to Maitreya's Pure Land. He recognized himself seated in the third seat in the abode of Maitreya. Someone announced: `Today the one who sits in the third seat will preach.'
Kyozen arose and, hitting the gavel, said: `The truth of Mahayana teaching is transcendent, above words and thought. Do you understand?'

 


Two Monks Rolls Up the Screen
Hogen of Seiryo monastery was about to lecture before dinner when he noticed that the bamboo screen lowered for meditation had not been rolled up. He pointed to it. Two monks arose from the audience and rolled it up.
Hogen, observing the physical moment, said: `The state of the first monk is good, not that of the other.'

 


Blow Out the Candle
Tokusan was studying Zen under Ryutan. One night he came to Ryutan and asked many questions. The teacher said: `The night is getting old. Why don't you retire?'
So Tukusan bowed and opened the screen to go out, observing: `It is very dark outside.'
Ryutan offered Tokusan a lighted candle to find his way. Just as Tokusan received it, Ryutan blew it out. At that moment the mind of Tokusan was opened.
`What have you attained?' asked Ryutan.
`From now on,' said Tokusan, `I will not doubt the teacher's words.'
The next day Ryutan told the monks at his lecture: `I see one monk among you. His teeth are like the sword tree, his mouth is like the blood bowl. If you hit him hard with a big stick, he will not even so much as look back at you. Someday he will mount the highest peak and carry my teaching there.'
On that day, in front of the lecture hall, Tokusan burned to ashes his commentaries on the sutras. He said: `However abstruse the teachings are, in comparison with this enlightenment they are like a single hair to the great sky. However profound the complicated knowledge of the world, compared to this enlightenment it is like one drop of water to the great ocean.' Then he left the monastry.

 


This Mind is Buddha
Daibai asked Baso: `What is Buddha?'
Baso said: `This mind is Buddha.'

 


Joshu Investigates
A travelling monk asked an old woman the road to Taizan, a popular temple supposed to give wisdom to the one who worships there. The old woman said: `Go straight ahead.' When the monk proceeded a few steps, she said to herself: `He also is a common church-goer.'
Someone told this incident to Joshu, who said: `Wait until I investigate.' The next day he went and asked the same question, and the old woman gave the same answer.
Joshu remarked: `I have investigated that old woman.'

 


A Philosopher Asks Buddha
A philosopher asked Buddha: `Without words, without the wordless, will you you tell me truth?'
The Buddha kept silence.
The philosopher bowed and thanked the Buddha, saying: `With your loving kindness I have cleared away my delusions and entered the true path.'
After the philosopher had gone, Ananda asked the Buddha what he had attained.
The Buddha replied, `A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip.'

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Zen Tales


I Don't Know

The emperor, who was a devout Buddhist, invited a great Zen master to the Palace in order to ask him questions about Buddhism. "What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?" the emperor inquired.

"Vast emptiness... and not a trace of holiness," the master replied.

"If there is no holiness," the emperor said, "then who or what are you?"

"I do not know," the master replied.


Empty Your Cup

A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor's cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. "It's overfull! No more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup," the master replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."


Enlightened

One day the Master announced that a young monk had reached an advanced state of enlightment. The news caused some stir. Some of the monks went to see the young monk. "We heard you are enlightened. Is that true?" they asked.

"It is," he replied.

"And how do you feel?"

"As miserable as ever," said the monk.


Banishing a Ghost

The wife of a man became very sick. On her deathbed, she said to him, "I love you so much! I don't want to leave you, and I don't want you to betray me. Promise that you will not see any other women once I die, or I will come back to haunt you."

For several months after her death, the husband did avoid other women, but then he met someone and fell in love. On the night that they were engaged to be married, the ghost of his former wife appeared to him. She blamed him for not keeping the promise, and every night thereafter she returned to taunt him. The ghost would remind him of everything that transpired between him and his fiancee that day, even to the point of repeating, word for word, their conversations. It upset him so badly that he couldn't sleep at all.

Desperate, he sought the advice of a Zen master who lived near the village. "This is a very clever ghost," the master said upon hearing the man's story. "It is!" replied the man. "She remembers every detail of what I say and do. It knows everything!" The master smiled, "You should admire such a ghost, but I will tell you what to do the next time you see it."

That night the ghost returned. The man responded just as the master had advised. "You are such a wise ghost," the man said, "You know that I can hide nothing from you. If you can answer me one question, I will break off the engagement and remain single for the rest of my life." "Ask your question," the ghost replied. The man scooped up a handful of beans from a large bag on the floor, "Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my hand."

At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned.


The Gift of Insults

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior's challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. "How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?"

"If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it," the master replied, "to whom does the gift belong?"

Comments
"I would hesitate (he who hesitates is lost) to call insults a gift, but this reminds me of child's saying, 'I'm made of rubber, you're made of glue, everything you say bounces off me and sticks to you.'"

"This story reminds me of something I read in one of my aikido books. Two old,great masters were preparing to fight in a Kendo match, Japanese swordsmanship. When the match started, neither one moved from their fighting stance. In fact they both stayed exactly still for five minutes until the match was finally called a draw. If they made the first move it would reveal their weaknesses, and they would be defeated. Now that is awesome."


Moving Mind

Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind.
"It's the wind that is really moving," stated the first one.
"No, it is the flag that is moving," contended the second.
A Zen master, who happened to be walking by, overheard the debate and interrupted them.
"Neither the flag nor the wind is moving," he said, "It is MIND that moves."

In other versions of this story, the master says it is the HEART that flaps.


Equanimity

During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was. When he wasn't treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger.
"You fool," he shouted as he reached for his sword, "don't you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!"
But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved.
"And do you realize," the master replied calmly, "that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?"


Other versions of this story then describe how the general, surprised and awed by the master, sheepishly leaves.


Successor

The old Zen master's health was fading. Knowing his death was near, he announced to all the monks that he soon would be passing down his robe and rice bowl to appoint the next master of the monastery. His choice, he said, would be based on a contest. Anyone seeking the appointment was required to demonstrate his spiritual wisdom by submitting a poem. The head monk, the most obvious successor, presented a poem that was well composed and insightful. All the monks anticipated his selection as their new leader. However, the next morning another poem appeared on the wall in the hallway, apparently written during the dark hours of the night. It stunned everyone with its elegance and profundity but no one knew who the author was. Determined to find this person, the old master began questioning all the monks. To his surprise, the investigation led to the rather quiet kitchen worker who pounded rice for the meals. Upon hearing the news, the jealous head monk and his comrades plotted to kill their rival. In secret, the old master passed down his robe and bowl to the rice pounder, who quickly fled from the monastery, later to become a widely renowned Zen teacher.


When Tired

A student once asked his teacher, "Master, what is enlightenment?"
The master replied, "When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep."

In other versions of this story, one disciple is bragging about his master to the disciple of another master. He claims that his teacher is capable of all sorts of magical acts, like writing in the air with a brush, and having the characters appear on a piece of paper hundreds of feet away. "And what can YOUR master do?" he asks the other disciple. "My master can also perform amazing feats," the other student replies. "When he's tired, he sleeps. When hungry, he eats"........... or simply, "When he sleeps, he sleeps. When he eats, he eats."


Working Very Hard

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, "I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it." The teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student answered, "But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?" The teacher thought for a moment, "20 years."

In other versions of this story, the student says he is eager to attain "enlightenment".




In early times in Japan, bamboo-and-paper lanterns were used with candles inside. A blind man, visiting a friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home with him.
"I do not need a lantern," he said. "Darkness or light is all the same to me."
"I know you do not need a lantern to find your way," his friend replied, "but if you don't have one, someone else may run into you. So you must take it."
The blind man started off with the lantern and before he had walked very far someone ran squarely into him.
"Look out where you are going!" he exclaimed to the stranger. "Can't you see this lantern?"
"Your candle has burned out, brother," replied the stranger.



When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.
"Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer.
"Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best."
At these words Banzan became enlightened.



The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai, Silent Thunder. He had a little protege named Toyo who was only twelve years old. Toyo saw the older disciples visit the master's room each morning and evening to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidance in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering.
Toyo wished to do sanzen also.
"Wait a while," said Mokurai. "You are too young."
But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.
In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai's sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.
"You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together," said Mokurai. "Now show me the sound of one hand."
Toyo bowed and went to his room to consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. "Ah, I have it!" he proclaimed.
The next evening, when his teacher asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play the music of the geishas.
"No, no," said Mokurai. "That will never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You've not got it at all."
Thinking that such music might interrupt, Toyo moved his abode to a quiet place. He meditated again. "What can the sound of one hand be?" He happened to hear some water dripping. "I have it," imagined Toyo.
When he next appeared before his teacher, Toyo imitated dripping water.
"What is that?" asked Mokurai. "That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again."
In vain Toyo meditated to hear the sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound was rejected.
He heard the cry of an owl. This also was refused.
The sound of one hand was not the locusts.
For more than ten times Toyo visited Mokurai with different sounds. All were wrong. For almost a year he pondered what the sound of one hand might be.
At last little Toyo entered true meditation and transcended all sounds. "I could collect no more," he explained later, "so I reached the soundless sound."
Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.



In the early days of the Meiji era there lived a well-known wrestler called O-nami, Great Waves.
O-nami was immensely strong and knew the art of wrestling. In his private bouts he defeated even his teacher, but in public he was so bashful that his own pupils threw him.
O-nami felt he should go to a Zen master for help. Hakuju, a wandering teacher, was stopping in a little temple nearby, so O-nami went to see him and told him of his trouble.
"Great Waves is your name," the teacher advised, "so stay in this temple tonight. Imagine that you are those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. You are those huge waves sweeping everything before them, swallowing all in their path. Do this and you will be the greatest wrestler in the land."
The teacher retired. O-nami sat in meditation trying to imagine himself as waves. He thought of many different things. Then gradually he turned more and more to the feeling of the waves. As the night advanced the waves became larger and larger. They swept away the flowers in their vases. Even the Buddha in the shrine was inundated. Before dawn the temple was nothing but the ebb and flow of an immense sea.
In the morning the teacher found O-nami meditating, a faint smile on his face. He patted the wrestler's shoulder. "Now nothing can disturb you," he said. "You are those waves. You will sweep everything before you."
The same day O-nami entered the wrestling contests and won. After that, no one in Japan was able to defeat him.



A monk was anxious to learn Zen and said: "I have been newly initiated into the Brotherhood. Will you be gracious enough to show me the way to Zen?" The Master said: "Do you hear the murmuring sound of the mountain stream?" The monk said: "Yes, I do." The Master said: "Here is the entrance." [Quoted in "The Little Zen Companion", P. 377]



A Philosopher Asks Buddha
A philosopher asked Buddha: `Without words, without the wordless, will you you tell me truth?'
The Buddha kept silence.
The philosopher bowed and thanked the Buddha, saying: `With your loving kindness I have cleared away my delusions and entered the true path.'
After the philosopher had gone, Ananda asked the Buddha what he had attained.
The Buddha replied, `A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip.'

Mumon's Comment: Ananda was the disciple of the Buddha. Even so, his opinion did not surpass that of outsiders. I want to ask you monks: How much difference is there between disciples and outsiders?

To tread the sharp edge of a sword
To run on smooth-frozen ice,
One needs no footsteps to follow.
Walk over the cliffs with hands free.



Joshu's Dog
A monk asked Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: `Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?'
Joshu answered: `Mu.' [Mu is the negative symbol in Chinese, meaning `No-thing' or `Nay'.]

Mumon's comments: To realize Zen one has to pass through the barrier of the patriachs. Enlightenment always comes after the road of thinking is blocked. If you do not pass the barrier of the patriachs or if your thinking road is not blocked, whatever you think, whatever you do, is like a tangling ghost. You may ask: What is a barrier of a patriach? This one word, Mu, is it.
This is the barrier of Zen. If you pass through it you will see Joshu face to face. Then you can work hand in hand with the whole line of patriachs. Is this not a pleasant thing to do?
If you want to pass this barrier, you must work through every bone in your body, through ever pore in your skin, filled with this question: What is Mu? and carry it day and night. Do not believe it is the common negative symbol meaning nothing. It is not nothingness, the opposite of existence. If you really want to pass this barrier, you should feel like drinking a hot iron ball that you can neither swallor nor spit out.
Then your previous lesser knowledge disappears. As a fruit ripening in season, your subjectivity and objectivity naturally become one. It is like a dumb man who has had a dream. He knows about it but cannot tell it.
When he enters this condition his ego-shell is crushed and he can shake the heaven and move the earth. He is like a great warrior with a sharp sword. If a Buddha stands in his way, he will cut him down; if a patriach offers him any obstacle, he will kill him; and he will be free in this way of birth and death. He can enter any world as if it were his own playground. I will tell you how to do this with this koan:
Just concentrate your whole energy into this Mu, and do not allow any discontinuation. When you enter this Mu and there is no discontinuation, your attainment will be as a candle burning and illuminating the whole universe.

Has a dog Buddha-nature?
This is the most serious question of all.
If you say yes or no,
You lose your own Buddha-nature.


Hyakujo's Fox
Once when Hyakujo delivered some Zen lectures an old man attended them, unseen by the monks. At the end of each talk when the monks left so did he. But one day he remained after the had gone, and Hyakujo asked him: `Who are you?'
The old man replied: `I am not a human being, but I was a human being when the Kashapa Buddha preached in this world. I was a Zen master and lived on this mountain. At that time one of my students asked me whether the enlightened man is subject to the law of causation. I answered him: "The enlightened man is not subject to the law of causation." For this answer evidencing a clinging to absoluteness I became a fox for five hundred rebirths, and I am still a fox. Will you save me from this condition with your Zen words and let me get out of a fox's body? Now may I ask you: Is the enlightened man subject to the law of causation?'
Hyakujo said: `The enlightened man is one with the law of causation.'
At the words of Hyakujo the old man was enlightened. `I am emancipated,' he said, paying homage with a deep bow. `I am no more a fox, but I have to leave my body in my dwelling place behind this mountain. Please perform my funeral as a monk.' The he disappeared.
The next day Hyakujo gave an order through the chief monk to prepare to attend the funeral of a monk. `No one was sick in the infirmary,' wondered the monks. `What does our teacher mean?'
After dinner Hyakujo led the monks out and around the mountain. In a cave, with his staff he poked out the corpse of an old fox and then performed the ceremony of cremation.
That evening Hyakujo gave a talk to the monks and told this story about the law of causation.
Obaku, upon hearing this story, asked Hyakujo: `I understand that a long time ago because a certain person gave a wrong Zen answer he became a fox for five hundred rebirths. Now I was to ask: If some modern master is asked many questions, and he always gives the right answer, what will become of him?'
Hyakujo said: `You come here near me and I will tell you.'
Obaku went near Hyakujo and slapped the teacher's face with this hand, for he knew this was the answer his teacher intended to give him.
Hyakujo clapped his hands and laughed at the discernment. `I thought a Persian had a red beard,' he said, `and now I know a Persian who has a red beard.'

Mumon's comment: `The enlightened man is not subject.' How can this answer make the monk a fox?
`The enlightened man is at one with the law of causation.' How can this answer make the fox emancipated?
To understand clearly one has to have just one eye.

Controlled or not controlled?
The same dice shows two faces.
Not controlled or controlled,
Both are a grievous error.



Gutei's Finger
Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger.
Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away. Gutei called and stopped him. When the boy turned his head to Gutei, Gutei raised up his own finger. In that instant the boy was enlightened.
When Gutei was about to pass from this world he gathered his monks around him. `I attained my finger-Zen,' he said, `from my teacher Tenryu, and in my whole life I could not exhaust it.' Then he passed away.

Mumon's comment: Enlightenment, which Gutei and the boy attained, has nothing to do with a finger. If anyone clings to a finger, Tenyru will be so disappointed that he will annihilate Gutei, the boy and the clinger all together.

Gutei cheapens the teaching of Tenyru,
Emancipating the boy with a knife.
Compared to the Chinese god who pushed aside a mountain with one hand
Old Gutei is a poor imitator.


A Beardless Foreigner
Wakun complained when he saw a picture of the bearded Bodhidharma: `Why hasn't that fellow a beard?'

Mumon's comment: If you want to study Zen, you must it with your heart. When you attain realization, it must be true realization. You yourself must have the face of the great Bodhidharma to see him. Just once such glimpse will be enough. But if you say you met him, you never saw him at all.

One should not discuss a dream
In front of a simpleton.
Why has Bodhidharma no beard?
What an absurd question!


Kyogen Mounts the Tree
Kyogen said: `Zen is like a man hanging in a tree by his teeth over a precipice. His hands grasp no branch, his feet rest on no limb, and under the three another person asks him: `Why does Bodhidharma come to China from India?'
`If the man in tree does not answer, he fails; and if he does answer, he falls and loses his life. Now what shall he do?'

Mumon's Comment: In such a predicament the most talented eloquence is no use. If you have memorized all the sutras, you cannot use them. When you can give the right answer, even though your past road was one of death, you open up a new road of life. But if you cannot answer, you should ages hence and the future Buddha, Maitreya.

Kyogen is truly a fool
Spreading that ego-killing poison
That closes his pupils' mouths
And lets their tears stream from their dead eyes.



Buddha Twirls a Flower
When Buddha was in Grdhrakuta mountain he turned a flower in his fingers and held in before his listeners. Every one was silent. Only Maha-Kashapa smiled at this revelation, although he tried to control the lines of his face.
Buddha said: `I have the eye of the true teaching, the heart of Nirvana, the true aspect of non-form, and the ineffable stride of Dharma. It is not expressed by words, but especially transmitted beyond teaching. This teaching I have given to Maha-Kashapa.'

Mumon's Comment: Golden-faced Guatama thought he could cheat anyone. He made the good listeners as bad, and sold dog meat under the sign of mutton. And he himself thought it was wonderful. What if all the audience had laughed together? How could he have transmitted the teaching? And again, if Maha-Kashapa had not smiled, how could he have transmitted the teaching? If he says that realization can be transmitted, he is like the city slicker that cheats the country dub, and if he says it cannot be transmitted, why does he approve of Maha-Kashapa?

At the turning of a flower
His diguise was exposed.
No one is heaven or earth can surpass
Maha-Kashapa's wrinkled face.



Joshu Washes the Bowl
A monk told Joshu: `I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.'
Joshu asked: `Have you eaten your rice porridge?'
The monk replied: `I have eaten.'
Joshu said: `Then you had better wash your bowl.'
At that moment the monk was enlightened.

Mumon's Comment: Joshu is the man who opens his mouth and shows his heart. I doubt if this monk really saw Joshu's heart. I hope he did not mistake the bell for a pitcher.

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A dunce once searched for fire with a lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.


Keichu's Wheel
Getsuan said to this students: `Keichu, the first wheel-maker of China, made two wheels of fifty spokes each. Now, suppose you removed the nave uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel? And had Keichu done this, could he be called the master wheel-maker?'

Mumon's Comment: If anyone can answer this question instantly, his eyes will be like a comet and his mind like a flash of lightning.

When the hubless wheel turns,
Master or no master can stop it.
It turns above heaven and below earth,
South, north, east and west.



A Buddha Before History
A monk asked Seijo: `I understand that a Buddha who lived before recorded history sat in meditation for ten cycles of existence and could not realize the highest truth, and so could not become fully emancipated. Why was this so?'
Seijo replied: `Your question is self-explanatory.'
The monk asked: `Since the Buddha was meditating, why could he not fulfill Buddahood?'
Seijo said: `He was not a Buddha.'

Mumon's Comment: I will allow his realization, but I will not admit his understanding. When one ignorant attains realization he is a saint. When a saint begins to understand he is an ignorant.

It is better to realize mind than body.
When the mind is realized one need not worry about body.
When mind and body become one
The man is free. Then he desires no praising.


Seizei Alone and Poor
A monk named Seizei asked of Sozan: `Seizei is alone and poor. Will you give him support?'
Sozan asked: `Seizei?'
Seizei responded: `Yes, sir.'
Sozan said: `You have Zen, the best wine in China, and already have finished three cups, and still you are saying that they did not even wet your lips.'

Mumon's Comment: Seizei overplayed his hand. Why was it so? Because Sozan had eyes and knew whom to deal. Even so, I want to ask: At what point did Seizei drink wine?

The poorest man in China,
The bravest man in China,
He barely sustains himself,
Yet wishes to rival the wealthiest.



Joshu Examines a Monk in Meditation
Joshu went to a place were a monk had retired to meditate and asked him: `What is, is what?'
The monk raised his fist.
Joshu replied: `Ships cannot remain where the water is too shallow.' And he left.
A few days later Joshu went again to visit the monk and asked the same question.
The monk answered the same way.
Joshu said: `Well given, well taken, well killed, well save.' And he bowed to the monk.

Mumon's Comment: The raised fist was the same both times. Why is it Joshu did not admit the first and approved the second one? Where is the fault?
Whoever answers this knows that Joshu's tongue has no bone so he can use it freely. Yet perhaps Joshu is wrong. Or, through that monk, he may have discovered his mistake.
If anyone thinks that the one's insight exceeds the other's, he has no eyes.

The light of the eyes is as a comet,
And Zen's activity is as lightning.
The sword that kills the man
Is the sword that saves the man.



Zuigan Calls His Own Master
Zuigan called out to himself every day: `Master.'
Then he answered himself: `Yes, sir.'
And after that he added: `Become sober.'
Again he answered: `Yes, sir.'
`And after that,' he continued, `do not be deceived by others.'
`Yes, sir; yes, sir,' he answered.

Mumon's Comment: Old Zuigan sells out and buys himself. He is opening a puppet show. He uses one mask to call `Master' and another that answers the master. Another mask says `Sober up' and another, `Don't be cheated by others.' If anyone clings to any of his masks, he is mistaken, yet if he imitates Zuigan, he will make himself fox-like.

Some Zen students do not realize the true man in a mask
Because they recognize ego-soul.
Ego-sould is the seed of birth and death,
And foolish people call it the true man.



Tokusan Holds His Bowl
Tokusan went to the dining room from the meditation hall holding his bowl. Seppo was on duty cooking. When he met Tokusan he said: `The dinner drum is not yet beaten. Where are you going with your bowl?'
So Tokusan returned to his room.
Seppo told Ganto about this. Ganto said: `Old Tokusan did not understand the ultimate truth.'
Tokusan heard of this remark and asked Ganto to come to him. `I have heard,' he said, `you are not approving my Zen.' Ganto admitted this indirectly. Tokusan said nothing.
The next day Tokusan delivered an entirely different kind of lecture to the monks. Ganto laughed and clapped his hands, saying: `I see our old man understands the ultimate truth indeed. None in China can surpass him.'

Mumon's Comment: Speaking about ultimate truth, both Ganto and Tokusan did not even dream it. After all, they are dummies.

Whoever understands the first truth
Should understand the ultimate truth.
The last and first,
Are they not the same?



Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two
Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: `If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat.'
No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.
That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.
Nansen said: `If you had been there, you could have saved the cat.'

Mumon's Comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.

Had Joshu been there,
He would have enforced the edict oppositely.
Joshua snatches the sword
And Nansen begs for his life.


Tozan's Three Blows
Tozan went to Ummon. Ummon asked him where he had come from.
Tozan said: `From Sato village.'
Ummon asked: `In what temple did you remain for the summer?'
Tozan replied: `The temple of Hoji, south of the lake.'
`When did you leave there?' asked Ummon, wondering how long Tozan would continue with such factual answers.
`The twenty-fifth of August,' answered Tozan.
Ummon said: `I should give you three blows with a stick, but today I forgive you.'
The next day Tozan bowed to Ummon and asked: `Yesterday you forgave me three blows. I do not know why you thought me wrong.'
Ummon, rebuking Tozan's spiritless responses, said: `You are good for nothing. You simply wander from one monastery to another.'
Before Ummon's words were ended Tozan was enlightened.

Mumon's Comment: Ummon fed Tozan good Zen food. If Tozan can digest it, Ummon may add another member to his family.
In the evening Tozan swam around in a sea of good and bad, but at dawn Ummon crushed his nut shell. After all, he wasn't so smart.
Now, I want to ask: Did Tozan deserve the three blows? If you say yes, not only Tozan but every one of you deserves them. If you say no, Ummon is speaking a lie. If you answer this question clearly, you can eat the same food as Tozan.

The lioness teaches her cubs roughly;
The cubs jump and she knocks them down.
When Ummon saw Tozan his first arrow was light;
His second arrow shot deep.


Bells and Robes
Ummon asked: `The world is such a wide world, why do you answer a bell and don ceremonial robes?'

Mumon's Comment: When one studies Zen one need not follow sound or colour or form. Even though some have attained insight when hearing a voice or seeing a colour or a form, this is a very common way. It is not true Zen. The real Zen student controls sound, colour, form, and actualizes the truth in his everyday life.
Sound comes to the ear, the ear goes to the sound. When you blot out sound and sense, what do you understand? While listening with ears one never can understand. To understand intimately one should see sound.

When you understand, you belong to the family;
When you do not understand, you are a stranger.
Those who do not understand belong to the family,
And when they understand they are strangers.


The Three Calls of the Emperor's Teacher
Chu, called Kokushi, the teacher of the emperor, called to his attendant: `Oshin.'
Oshin answered: `Yes.'
Chu repeated, to test his pupil: `Oshin.'
Oshin repeated: `Yes.'
Chu called: `Oshin.'
Oshin answered: `Yes.'
Chu said `I ought to apologize for you for all this calling, but really you ought to apologize to me.'

Mumon's Comment: When Old Chu called Oshin three tiems his tongue was rotting, but when Oshin answered three tiems his words were brilliant. Chu was getting decrepit and lonesome, and his method of teaching was like holding a cow's head to feed it clover.
Oshin did not trouble to show his Zen either. His satisfied stomach had no desire to feast. When the country is prosperous everyone is indolent; when the home is wealthy the children are spoilt.
Now I want to ask you: Which one should apologize?

When prison stocks are iron and have no place for the head, the prisoner is doubly in trouble.
When there is no place for Zen in the head of our generation, it is in grievous trouble.
If you try to hold up the gate and door of a falling house,
You also will be in trouble.


Tozan's Three Pounds
A monk asked Tozan when he was weighing some flax: `What is Buddha?'
Tozan said: `This flax weighs three pounds.'

Mumon's Comment: Old Tozan's Zen is like a clam. The minute the shell opens you see the whole inside. However, I want to ask you: Do you see the real Tozan?

Three pounds of flax in front of your nose,
Close enough, and mind is still closer.
Whoever talks about affirmation and negation
Lives in the right and wrong region.


Everyday Life is the Path
Joshu asked Nansen: `What is the path?'
Nansen said: `Everyday life is the path.'
Joshu asked: `Can it be studied?'
Nansen said: `If you try to study, you will be far away from it.'
Joshu asked: `If I do not study, how can I know it is the path?'
Nansen said: `The path does not belong to the perception world, neither does it belong to the nonperception world. Cognition is a delusion and noncognition is senseless. If you want to reach the true path beyond doubt, place yourself in the same freedom as sky. You name it neither good nor not-good.'
At these words Joshu was enlightened.

Mumon's Comment: Nansen could met Joshu's frozen doubts at once when Joshu asked his questions. I doubt that if Joshu reached the point that Nansen did. He needed thirty more years of study.

In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;
In the summer, a refreshing breeze; in winter snow will accompany your.
If useless things do not hang in your mind,
Any season is a good season for you.


The Enlightened Man
Shogen asked: `Why does the enlightened man not stand on his feet and explain himself?' And he also said: `It is not necessary for speech to come from the tongue.'

Mumon's Comment: Shogen spoke plainly enough, but how many will understand? If anyone comprehends, he should come to my place and test out my big stick. Why, look here, to test real gold you must see it through fire.

If the feet of enlightenment moved, the great ocean would overflow;
If that head bowed, it would look down upon the heavens.
Such a body hsa no place to rest....
Let another continue this poem.


Dried Dung
A monk asked Ummon: `What is Buddha?' Ummon answered him: `Dried dung.'

Mumon's Comment: It seems to me Ummon is so poor he cannot distinguish the taste of one food from another, or else he is too busy to write readable letters. Well, he tried to hold his school with dried dung. And his teaching was just as useless.

Lightning flashes,
Sparks shower.
In one blink of your eyes
You have missed seeing.


Kashapa's Preaching Sign
Anada asked Kashapa: `Buddha gave you the golden-woven robe of successorship. What else did he give you?'
Kashapa said: `Ananda.'
Ananda answered: `Yes, brother.'
Said Kashapa: `Now you can take down my preaching sign and put up your own.'

Mumon's Comment: If one understands this, he will see the old brotherhood still gathering, but if not, even though he has studied the truth from ages before the Buddhas, he will not attain enlightenment.

The point of the question is dull but the answer is intimate.
How many persons hearing it will open their eyes?
Elder brother calls and younger brother answers,
This spring does not belong to the ordinary season.


Do Not Think Good, Do Not Think Not-Good
When he became emancipated the sixth patriach received from the fifth patriach the bowl and robe given from the Buddha to his successors, generation after generation.
A monk named E-myo out of envy pursued the patriach to take this great treasure away from him. The sixth patriach placed the bowl and robe on a stone in the road and told E-myo: `These objects just symbolize the faith. There is no use fighting over them. If you desire to take them, take them now.'
When E-myo went to move the bowl and robe they were as heavy as mountains. He could not budge them. Trembling for shame he said: `I came wanting the teaching, not the material treasures. Please teach me.'
The sixth patriach said: `When you do not think good and when you do not think not-good, what is your true self?'
At these words E-myo was illumined. Perspiration broke out all over his body. He cried and bowed, saying: `You have given me the secret words and meanings. Is there yet a deeper part of the teaching?'
The sixth patriach replied: `What I have told you is no secret at all. When you realize your true self the secret belongs to you.'
E-myo said: `I was under the fifth patriach for many years but could not realize my true self until now. Through your teaching I find the source. A person drinks water and knows himself whether it is cold or warm. May I call you my teacher?'
The sixth patriach replied: `We studied together under the fifth patriach. Call him your teacher, but just treasure what you have attained.'

Mumon's Comment: The sixth patriach certainly was kind in such an emergency. If was as if he removed the skin and seeds from the fruit and then, opening the pupil's mouth, let him eat.

You cannot describe it, you cannot picture it,
You cannot admire it, you cannot sense it.
It is your true self, it has nowhere to hide.
When the world is destroyed, it will no be destroyed.


Without Words, Without Silence
A monk asked Fuketsu: `Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?'
Fuketsu observed: `I always remember spring-time in southern China. The birds sing among innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.'

Mumon's Comment: Fuketsu used to have lightning Zen. Whenever he had the oppurtunity, he flashed it. But this time he failed to do so and only borrowed from an old Chinese poem. Never mind Fuketsu's Zen. If you want to express the truth, throw out your words, throw out your silence, and tell me about your own Zen.

Without revealing his own penetration,
He offered another's words, not his to give.
Had he chattered on and on,
Even his listeners would have been embarassed.


Preaching from the Third Seat
In a dream Kyozen went to Maitreya's Pure Land. He recognized himself seated in the third seat in the abode of Maitreya. Someone announced: `Today the one who sits in the third seat will preach.'
Kyozen arose and, hitting the gavel, said: `The truthof Mahayana teaching is transcendent, above words and thought. Do you understand?'

Mumon's Comment: I want to ask you monks: Did he preach or did he not?
When he opens his mouth he is lost. When he seals his mouth he is lost. If he does not open it, if he does not seal it, he is 108,000 miles from the truth.

In the light of day,
Yet in a dream he talks of a dream.
A monster among monsters,
He intended to deceive the whole crowd.


Two Monks Rolls Up the Screen
Hogen of Seiryo monastery was about to lecture before dinner when he noticed that the bamboo screen lowered for meditation had not been rolled up. He pointed to it. Two monks arose from the audience and rolled it up.
Hogen, observing the physical moment, said: `The state of the first monk is good, not that of the other.'

Mumon's Comment: I want to ask you: Which of those two monks gained and which lost? If any of you has one eye, he will see the failure on the teacher's part. However, I am not discussing gain and loss.

When the screen is rolled up the great sky opens,
Yet the sky is not attuned to Zen.
It is best to forget the great sky
And to retire from every wind.


It is Not Mind, It is Not Buddha, It is Not Things
A monk asked Nansen: `Is there a teaching no master ever preached before?'
Nansen said: `Yes, there is.'
`What is it?' asked the monk.
Nansen replied: `It is not mind, it is not Buddha, it is not things.'

Mumon's Comment: Old Nansen gave away his treasure-words. He must have been greatly upset.

Nansen was too kind and lost his treasure.
Truly, words have no power.
Even though the mountain becomes the sea,
Words cannot open another's mind.


Blow Out the Candle
Tokusan was studying Zen under Ryutan. One night he came to Ryutan and asked many questions. The teacher said: `The night is getting old. Why don't you retire?'
So Tukusan bowed and opened the screen to go out, observing: `It is very dark outside.'
Ryutan offered Tokusan a lighted candle to find his way. Just as Tokusan received it, Ryutan blew it out. At that moment the mind of Tokusan was opened.
`What have you attained?' asked Ryutan.
`From now on,' said Tokusan, `I will not doubt the teacher's words.'
The next day Ryutan told the monks at his lecture: `I see one monk among you. His teeth are like the sword tree, his mouth is like the blood bowl. If you hit him hard with a big stick, he will not even so much as look back at you. Someday he will mount the highest peak and carry my teaching there.'
On that day, in front of the lecture hall, Tokusan burned to ashes his commentaries on the sutras. He said: `However abstruse the teachings are, in comparison with this enlightenment they are like a single hair to the great sky. However profound the complicated knowledge of the world, compared to this enlightenment it is like one drop of water to the great ocean.' Then he left the monastry.

Mumon's Comment: When Tokusan was in his own country he was not satisfied with Zen although he had heard about it. He thought: `Those Southern monks say they can teach Dharma outside of the sutras. They are all wrong. I must teach them.' So he travelled south. He happened to stop near Ryutan's monastery for refreshments. An old woman who was there asked him: `What are you carrying so heavily?'
Tokusan replied: `This is a commentary I have made on the Diamond Sutra after many years of work.'
The old woman said: `I read that sutra which says: "The past mind cannot be held, the present mind cannot be held." You wish some tea and refreshments. Which mind do you propose to use for them?'
Tokusan was as though dumb. Finally he asked the woman: `Do you know of any good teacher around here?'
The old woman referred him to Ryutan, not more than five miles away. So he went to Ryutan in all humility, quite different from when he had started his journey. Ryutan in turn was so kind he forgot his own dignity. It was like pouring muddy water over a drunken man to sober him. After all, it was an unnecessary comedy.

A hundred hearings cannot surpass one seeing,
But after you see the teacher, that once glance cannot surpass a hundred hearings.
His nose was very high
But he was blind after all.


Not the Wind, Not the Flag
Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: `The flag is moving.'
The other said: `The wind is moving.'
The sixth patriach happened to be passing by. He told them: `Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.'

Mumon's Comment: The sixth patriach said: `The wind is not moving, the flag is not moving. Mind is moving.' What did he mean? If you understand this intimately, you will see the two monks there trying to buy iron and gaining gold. The sixth patriach could not bear to see those two dull heads, so he made such a bargain.

Wind, flag, mind moves.
The same understanding.
When the mouth opens
All are wrong.



This Mind is Buddha
Daibai asked Baso: `What is Buddha?'
Baso said: `This mind is Buddha.'

Mumon's Comment: If anyone wholly understands this, he is wearing Buddha's clothing, he is eating Buddha's food, he is speaking Buddha's words, he is behaving as Buddha, he is Buddha.
This anecdote, however, has given many pupil the sickness of formality. If one truly understands, he will wash out his mouth for three days after saying the word Buddha, and he will close his ears and flee after hearing `This mind is Buddha.'

Under blue sky, in bright sunlight,
One need not search around.
Asking what Buddha is
Is like hiding loot in one's pocket and declaring oneself innocent.


Joshu Investigates
A travelling monk asked an old woman the road to Taizan, a popular temple supposed to give wisdom to the one who worships there. The old woman said: `Go straight ahead.' When the monk proceeded a few steps, she said to herself: `He also is a common church-goer.'
Someone told this incident to Joshu, who said: `Wait until I investigate.' The next day he went and asked the same question, and the old woman gave the same answer.
Joshu remarked: `I have investigated that old woman.'

Mumon's Comment: The old woman understood how war is planned, but she did not know how spies sneak in behind her tent. Old Joshu played the spy's work and turned the tables on her, but he was not an able general. Both had their faults. Now I want to ask you: What was the point of Joshu's investigating the old woman?

When the question is common
The answer is also common.
When the question is sand in a bowl of boiled rice
The answer is a stick in the soft mud.