101 Zen Stories

Not quite

Hi Firefly,
A good take, but not quite. To 'merely' have a photographic memory is to dismiss other equally deep parts of Zen. For instance, understanding the dual nature of being and not being. There is so much more but that is my short exemplar.

Dave the Druid

Two panicky city dwellers found themselves lost in the high
timber. After wandering for a day and a night, they came
upon an old hermit.

"How do we find our way back to civilization?" they asked
the hermit.

"I could tell you but you'd still get lost," replied the hermit

"What should we do?" they asked.

"Go with the flow."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Go with the flow. You see that stream over there. Just follow
it. Streams go into creeks and creeks go into rivers and rivers
go through towns. Also along the way you'll have water to
drink and berries to eat."

"Is that what Zen people mean when they say 'go with the

"Yes and no," replied the Hermit proceeding along his way.

Source: Zen Fables for today
Look into Your Mind

Kakushin went to China in the middle of the thirteenth century to study Zen. There he met a famous Zen master who asked him, "What is your name?" Kakushin told the Zen master his name.

Noting that the name Kakushin means "Awakening the Mind." or "Awake mind," the master wrote a verse for the pilgrim:

Mind is Buddha,
Buddha is mind:
Mind and Buddha,
being such, are there
throughout all time.

After Kakushun's return to Japan, Emperor Kameyama heard of his Zen mastery and summoned him to teach in one of the imperial temples. Later the emperor also invited the master to the palace to ask him about Zen. The master's profound discourse, immense intelligence, and uninhibited eloquence impressed Emperor Kameyama beyond anything he had ever known. Realizing the exceptional quality of Zen Buddism, the emperor converted the imperial residence into a Zen sanctuary.

The next emperor, Go-Uta, also invited Kakushin to a special imperial villa to teach Zen. The master said, "The Buddhas understand mind; ordinary people misunderstand mind. The source of all Buddhas is one; the realms of misunderstanding and understanding divide. Without depending on another power, you can know by inherent capacity. If you want to arrive at Buddhahood, you must look into your own mind."

Source: Zen Antics
One day a fisherman was laying on a beautiful beach, with his fishing pole propped up in the sand and his solitary line cast out into the sparkling blue surf. He was enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sun and the hope of catching a fish.

About that time, a businessman came walking down the beach trying to relieve some of the stress of his workday. He noticed the fisherman sitting on the beach and decided to find out why this fisherman was fishing instead of working hard to make a living for himself and his family.

"You're not going to catch many fish that way," said the businessman, "You should be working harder rather than laying on the beach!"

The fisherman looked up, smiled and replied, "And what will my reward be?"

"Well, you can get bigger nets and catch more fish!" was the businessman's answer.

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman, still smiling.

The businessman replied, "You will make money and you'll be able to buy a boat, which will then result in larger catches of fish!"

"And then what will my reward be?" asked the fisherman again.

The businessman was beginning to get a little irritated with the fisherman's questions. "You can buy a bigger boat, and hire some people to work for you!" he said.

"And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was getting angry. "Don't you understand? You can build up a fleet of fishing boats, sail all over the world, and let your employees catch fish for you!"

Once again the fisherman asked, "And then what will my reward be?"

The businessman was red with rage and shouted at the fisherman, "Don't you understand that you can become so rich that you will never have to work for your living again! You can spend all the rest of your days sitting on this beach, looking at the sunset. You won't have a care in the world!"

The fisherman, still smiling, looked up and said, "And what do you think I'm doing right now?"
There was once a general of war who had spent his entire life fighting in campaigns for many kings. Now at the end of his career, he became tired of fighting. He had spent a lifetime perfecting his skill in all the arts of war and his skill was famous, but he was weary and had but one wish: to spend the rest of his days studying archery, the one art of war he had not mastered.

The general did not want to learn archery in order to be a better fighter, but rather to study and reflect. He had heard of Master archers, living in distant monasteries, who spend a lifetime doing nothing else but perfecting their skill. Their life appealed to him, and so he retired from fighting and began to search for the Master archers.

After a long journey the general found a monastery where the monks were devoted to archery. He entered the monastery and begged to join them and pass the remainder of his days on this earth studying archery. For 10 years that is what he did.

Then, when he had perfected his skill as an archer, the abbot of the monastery came to the general and said, "It is time to leave." The general was shocked and he protested, saying that his life in the world outside the monastery was over. His only desire was to remain within the monastery walls and continue to meditate on the bow, the arrow, the target.

The general argued and pleaded with the abbot, but the abbot was resolute. He insisted that the general must leave. To advance his skill, it was necessary for the general to go out into the world and teach what he had learned.

And so he left the monastery. Once outside, the general had nowhere to go; he decided to return to the village of his birth.

It was a long journey over many lands, but finally he neared the village. As he walked through the surrounding forest he noticed a bull's-eye on a tree, with an arrow in the exact center. The general was surprised by this and even more so when he noticed more trees with bull's-eyes and arrows in the center.

Soon he came to the farmlands and there saw many barns and homes with bull's-eyes and arrows dead center. He became agitated and walked quickly into the village center. There, on every wall of every building was a bull's-eye with an arrow right in the center.

The peace he had gained from his years of monastic life was gone. He was indignant to find that after 10 years of study and reflection there lived an archer more skilled that he. Quickly, he approached the elders of the town and demanded that the archer responsible for this perfection meet him at the edge of town by the mill, in one hour.

The general waited by the mill, but as the hour approached no one came. There was, however, a young girl playing by the river. The girl noticed him and came over.

"Are you waiting for someone?" she asked, looking up at the general.

"Go away," he said, irritated.

"No, no," said the girl, "you look like you're waiting for someone and I was told to come and meet someone here."

The general looked unbelievingly at the little girl and said, "I'm waiting for the Master archer responsible for the hundreds of perfect shots I have seen."

"Well, that's me then," said the girl.

The general, feeling more indignant still, looked skeptically at the girl. Finally, he said, "If you are telling the truth, then explain to me how you can get a perfect shot every single time you shoot your arrow."

"That's easy," said the girl, brightening. "I take my arrow and I draw it back very tight in the bow. Then I point it very, very straight and let it go. Wherever it lands I draw a bull's-eye."
The Silent Temple

Shoichi was a one-eyed teacher of Zen, sparkling with
enlightenment. He taught his disciples in Tofuku temple.

Day and night the whole temple stood in silence. There

was no sound at all.

Even the reciting of sutras was abolished by the teacher.

His pupils had nothing to do but meditate.

When the master passed away, an old neighbor heard the
ringing of bells and the recitation of sutras. Then she knew
Shoichi had gone.

Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
There is a story of a farmer whose horse ran away. That evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was such bad luck. He said, "May be."

The next day the horse returned, but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came exclaiming at his good fortune. He said, "May be."

And then, the following day, his son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy for the misfortune. He said, "May be."

The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of the broken leg the farmer's son was rejected. When the neighbors came to say how fortunately everything had turned out, he said, "May be."
Dongshan asked Yunju, "What are you doing?"

Yunju said, "I am making soy paste."

Dongshan, "Are you using some salt?"

Yunju said, "I turn some in."

Dongshan asked, "How does it taste."

Yunju said, "Done."

Source: Essential Zen
"Tell me the weight of a snowflake," a coal-mouse asked a wild dove.

"Nothing more than nothing," was the answer.

"In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story," the coal-mouse said.

"I sat on the branch of a fir, close to its trunk, when it began to snow -- not heavily, not in a raging blizzard -- no, just like a dream, without a sound and without any violence. Since I did not have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the 3,741,953rd dropped onto the branch, nothing more than nothing, as you say -- the branch broke off."

Having said that, the coal-mouse flew away.
An aged monk, who had lived a long and active life, was assigned a chaplain's role at an academy for girls. In discussion groups he often found that the subject of love became a central topic.

This comprised his warning to the young women: "Understand the danger of anything-too-much in your lives. Too much anger in combat can lead to recklessness and death. Too much ador in religious beliefs can lead to closemindedness and persecution. Too much passion in love creates dream images of the beloved---images that ultimately prove false and generate anger.

"To love too much is to lick honey from the point of a knife."

"But as a celebate monk," asked one young womean, "how can you know of love between a man and a woman?"

"Sometime, dear children," replied the old teacher, "I will tell you why I became a monk."

Source: Zen Fables For Today
Mind and Mount

Once Zen master Bankei spent several nights sitting under a crucifix in an execution ground, testing his Zen mind. After that he lay down on an embankment surrounding a corral. Now it so happened that there was a warrior in the corral beating a horse. Seeing this, Bankei hollered, "Hey! What do you think you are doing?"

This happened three times before the warrior stopped and got off his horse. Approaching the Zen master, he now saw that Bankei was not an ordinary man. The warrior said, "You were yelling at me. Do you have something to tell me?"

Bankei said, "Rather than beat your horse for being unruly, why not chastise yourself and train your own mind right?"

Source: Zen Antics
Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room's only window.

The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. And every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his room-mate all the things he could see outside the window.

The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance.

As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene. One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn't hear the band -- he could see it in his mind's eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words. Then unexpectedly, a sinister thought entered his mind. Why should the other man alone experience all the pleasures of seeing everything while he himself never got to see anything? It didn't seem fair.

At first thought the man felt ashamed. But as the days passed and he missed seeing more sights, he allowed his envy to erode into resentment and it soon turned him sour. He began to brood and he found himself unable to sleep. He should be by that window -- that thought, and only that thought now controlled his life.

Late one night as he lay staring at the ceiling, the man by the window began to cough. He was choking on the fluid in his lungs. The other man watched in the dimly lit room as the struggling man by the window groped for the button to call for help.

Listening from across the room he never moved, never pushed his own button which would have brought the nurse running in. In less than five minutes the coughing and choking stopped, along with that the sound of breathing. Now there was only silence -- deathly silence.

The following morning the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths. When she found the lifeless body of the man by the window, she was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take it away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. Slowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the world outside.

Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it all himself. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed.

It faced a blank wall!

The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, "Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you."
A certain Zen teacher celebrated with his students, drinking sake and whiskey until after midnight, then rose next morning before dawn. Peevish, he expressed annoyance that his American students had not risen in time to do zazen before morning service. When they murmured that their sluggishness might be accounted for by all the drink, the teacher snapped, "Sake is one thing, and zazen is another! They have nothing to do with each other!"

Source: Essential Zen
Nature Lover

Once there was a baron who was extremely fond of chrysanthemums. He had the whole rear garden of his mansion planted with them, and spent a lot of time and effort cultivating them.

In fact, the baron paid more attention to the care of his chrysanthemums than to his wife and concubines. Many of his retainers were punished for inadvertently breaking off a blossom. In short, the baron's passion for chrysanthemums made life miserable for everyone around him.

On one occasion, when a certain retainer accidentally broke off a blossom, he was ordered into confinement by the furious baron. Enraged by this treatment, the retainer resolved to disembowel himself in protest, according to the traditional warrior code.

Now it so happened that Zen master Sengai heard of this and hastened to intervene, preventing the retainer from committing suicide over such an affair.

Not content with a temporary measure, Sengai resolved to effect a permanent solution. One rainy night when the chrysanthemums were in full bloom, Sengai sneaked into the baron's garden with a sickle and cut down every single chrysanthemum.

Hearing a strange sound from the garden, the baron looked out and saw someone there. Rushing out wielding his sword in great alarm, he demanded to know what Sengai was doing. The Zen master calmly replied, "Even weeds like this eventually become rank if they are not cut."

Now the baron realized how wrong he had been. It was like awakening from a dream. From that time onward, he no longer raised chrysanthemums.

Source: Zen Antics
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."

Which story are you referring to? The last one that
Lykan posted about air and God or another one? :)
Seek Without Seeking

There is something in each of you that you will only be able to perceive when you turn around. So how does one turn around? By nonseeking, seeking without seeking. This is precisely what people find hard to feal with or get into. How can you seek if you are not seeking? How can you not seek if you are seeking? If you only seek, how is that differnet form pursuing sounds and chasing forms? If you do not seek at all, how are you different from inert matter?
You must seek, and yet without seeking; not seek, yet still seek. If you can manage to pemetrate this, you will then manage to harmonize seeking and nonseeking. So it is said, "Nonseeking nonseeking-- the body of reality is perfect quiescent. Seeking seeking-- responsive fonction does not miss. Seeking without seeking, nonseeking seeking-- objects and cognitions merge, substance and function are one." Therefore you find the three bodies, four knowledges, five eyes, and six spiritual powers all to light from this. Students must be able to turn around and search all the way through in this way before they can attain realization.
A seeker asked Yangshan, " What special pathway do you have? Please point out to me."
Yangshan said, "If I siad there is anything in paticular or nothing in paticular, I would confuse you even more. Where are you from?"
The seeker said he was from such and such a place. Yangshan asked, "Do you still think of that place?"
The seeker replied, "I think of it all the time."
Yangshan said, "What you think of are the buildings, towers, and habitations, of which there are a variety. Now think back to what thinks-- is there a variety of things there."
The seeker replied, "There is is no variety of things there?"
Yangshan said, "Basedon your prceptions, you have only attained one mystery. You have a seat and are wearing clothes; hereafter see for yourself."
The seeker said the object of though is varied, while the thinker is not varied. This view is biased; this is what prompted Yangshan to say he had only attained one mystery-- his perception if the path was not accurate.
If you ask me, the object of though, with a variety of buildings and houses, is in fact not various. This can be demonstrated. Right now there is a variety before your eyes; there are not so many of these. These are similarly, many types of the unvaried.
when the ser Bhishmottaranirghosha took the seeker Sudhuna by te hand, Sudhuna saw Buddhas as numerous as atoms in the infinite worlds. hwen the seer let go of Sudhana's hand everything was as it had been before. Now how do you understand this reversion to normal on relase of the Hand? You'd better understand!

Instant Zen
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No problem, just wanted to make sure we were discussing the
same story. I'm still pondering the last story (wanting god) so I
don't have an interpretation to offer at the moment. I think I
need to step away from it for a few, if you know what I mean.
If/when I do come up with anything I will post my thoughts. :)

In the meantime, I thought this quote was relevant:


"When your original reason for studying Zen is not right, you
wind up having labored without accomplishment. This is why
ancients used to urge people to study Zen as if they were on
the brink of death." -Zen Master Yuanwu