Zen Stories to Tell your
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 we re 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
"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
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
large bag on the floor, "Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my
At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned.
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.
me a soft tap, and you will get a tiny ping. Strike hard, and you'll receive
loud, resounding peal."
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
Chasing Two Rabbits
A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question. "I'd like
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
One day while walking through the wilderness a man stumbled upon a
vicious tiger. He ran but soon came to the edge of a high cliff. Desperate to
save himself, he climbed down a vine and dangled over the fatal precipice. As
he hung there, two mice appeared from a hole in the cliff and began gnawing
on the vine. Suddenly, he noticed on the vine a plump wild strawberry. He
plucked it and popped it in his mouth. It was incredibly delicious!
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
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
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,"
master said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little
with the mind that lets loose the shot."
During a momentous battle, a Japanese general decided to attack even
though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win,
but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to the battle, they stopped at
a religious shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin
and said, "I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If
shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself."
He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was
heads. The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they
vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a
lieutenant remarked to the general, "No one can change destiny."
"Quite right," the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the
had heads on both sides.
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
now a butterfly who dreams about being a man?"
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
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."
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!
more will go in!" the professor blurted. "You are like this cup,"
replied, "How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup."
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
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
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
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
replied, "to whom does the gift belong?"
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
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. )
Whenever anyone asked him about Zen, the great master Gutei would
quietly raise one finger into the air. A boy in the village began to imitate
behavior. Whenever he heard people talking about Gutei's teachings, he
would interrupt the discussion and raise his finger. Gutei heard about the
boy's mischief. When he saw him in the street, he seized him and cut off his
finger. The boy cried and began to run off, but Gutei called out to him. When
the boy turned to look, Gutei raised his finger into the air. At that moment
the boy became enlightened.
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 greeted him at the door. "I would like to see
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
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
"I do not know," the master replied.
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
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
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?"
said as he handed them the child.
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.
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
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
know that the fish are enjoying themselves?"
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,
have had your first lesson in the art of burglary."
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
farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three
other wild horses. "How wonderful," the neighbors exclaimed. "May
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your
Two men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. "It's the wind
is really moving," stated the first one. "No, it is the flag that
contended the second. A Zen master, who happened to be walking by,
overheard the debate and interrupted them. "Neither the flag nor the wind
moving," he said, "It is MIND that moves."
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 it's 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.)
A priest was in charge of the garden 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
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
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."
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."
Two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. Wary
of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. One of the monks
hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported
her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him
As the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and
preoccupied. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. "Brother, our spiritual
training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one
up on your shoulders and carried her!"
"Brother," the second monk replied, "I set her down on the other
you are still carrying her."
(some versions of this story describe the monk as carrying the
woman across a mud puddle )
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 look 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
their way to the oasis.
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
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
is now." Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.
A rich man asked a Zen master to write something down that could
encourage the prosperity of his family for years to come. It would be
something that the family could cherish for generations. On a large piece of
paper, the master wrote, "Father dies, son dies, grandson dies."
The rich man became angry when he saw the master's work. "I asked you to
write something down that could bring happiness and prosperity to my
family. Why do you give me something depressing like this?"
"If your son should die before you," the master answered, "this
unbearable grief to your family. If your grandson should die before your son,
this also would bring great sorrow. If your family, generation after
generation, disappears in the order I have described, it will be the natural
course of life. This is true happiness and prosperity."
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.
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
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
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."
Sounds of Silence
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,
we not suppose to talk?" The third monk said, "Why must you two break
silence?" The fourth monk laughed and said, "Ha! I'm the only one
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".
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 it's 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.
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!"
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
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.
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.
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
hear you say that it is NOT an inn?"
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!"
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
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
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
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
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."
A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him.
"Master, I wish to become your disciple," said the man. "Why?"
hermit. The young man thought for a moment. "Because I want to find
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
want God as much as you just wanted air."
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
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
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.
hungry, he eats"........... or simply, "When he sleeps, he sleeps.
When he eats,
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
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
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)
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."
teacher's reply was casual, "Ten years." Impatiently, the student
"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