Asia Online (TAO) Zen Index
WITH STORIES & PARABLES
AND KOAN RIDDLES
THE ZEN MASTERS & WITH CUTS
FROM OLD CHINESE INK-PAINTINGS
THE PETER PAUPER
MOUNT VERNON & NEW YORK
BY THE PETER PAUPER PRESS, INC.
AN INTRODUCTION TO ZEN
ZEN, a variety
of Buddhism, now flourishes in Japan, and has infused
richness into almost all of Japan's cultural life. Before it took root in
Japan in the twelfth century, it had been for five hundred years one of the
great philosophical-religious movements in China. It has only recently been
discovered by the West, thanks to the books of Professor D. T. Suzuki and to
the fascination that Japan has exercised on so many American servicemen and
Zen has been
described as a mystical pantheism, a system of metaphysics
taught with riddles and blows, a sort of existentialist cult, a blandly
not-to-be-explained higher way of daily life. Zen is something of all of
these, but basically it is a variety of Buddhism.
in India about 500 B.C. with the prince Siddhartha
Gautama, who gave up his family and his sheltered life which he discovered
could not protect him from old age, illness, unhappiness and death - to seek
a higher kind of life. After seeking wisdom from others and failing to find
it, he had his own revelation of a higher life; this came as he meditated
under the Bodhi-tree. Thereafter he taught the Truth that he had learned,
and around him gathered a group of followers that grew into the monastic
order still powerful in much of the Orient. He was known to his followers as
the Buddha, the Enlightened One.
that there is an eternal, endless universe of Absolute Being,
of which we are temporary incarnations. As such, we are subject to delusions
and temptations, pain and trouble, illness and death. But by studying to
find wisdom, living to do good, and concentrating to achieve control over
mind and body, we can escape from the dominance of the physical world, and
we can transmit a good inheritance of karma to our later incarnations. Karma
has been defined as "that moral kernel of any being which survives death and
continues in transmigration."
that a succcssion of beings, each improving its common
inheritance of karma, can eventually rise to an existence entirely free of
this world: the state of nirvana. Buddha himself is said to have achieved
nirvana at his death - that is, permanent enlightenment in a state free from
A thousand years
after Buddha, a monk from India came to China with a
modified Buddhism that was destined to become widely practiced in China, and
eventually in Japan, under the name Zen (from the Sanscrit Dhyana and the
Chinese Ch'an). This traveler was called Bodhidharma (Bodhi= enlightenment,
Dharma = Truthful Way), and is believed to have come to China in 520 AD.
Zen was transmitted through a body of monks and a
series of patriarchs - each patriarch leaving his robe and begging bowl to
his chosen successor as a badge of office. The sixth patriarch was a lowly
monk who was not a scholar: his selection confirmed the fact that by this
time Zen had become a way of life for the simple as well as for the studious
devotee. This was about one hundred and fifty years after Bodhidharma.
Zen is - without
being worldly - a discipline more suited than classic
Buddhism to worldly men seeking a higher spiritual experience. It neglects
karma, reincarnation, and nirvana, but it still demands meditation,
Concentration and physical discipline. Its unique teaching is that
"enlightenment" may come to dedicated laymen, and that this enlightenment
may occur suddenly and intuitively not necessarily requiring years of study
of enlightenment in Zen is not at all a rational or methodical
process. It is completely non-rational, unexplainable, and intuitive. The
Zen training in concentration, in the characteristic cross-legged position,
and the Zen teaching of koans (non.iogical riddles and stories) are designed
to put the student in a state where he can abandon logic and make the leap
upward into enlightenment. In Japanese this state of enlightenment is called
In satori we
are able to look beyond our immediate world into the universe
of original, eternal, Absolute Being often called the Great Emptiness -
which was before our world was formed, and will be after it disappears. In
this condition we lose our sense of Self, and know ourselves to be part of
the great Oneness of all. Knowing ourselves to be part of Absolute Being,
our ego and our problems of ego - sin, pain, poverty, fear -all dissolve.
This is salvation in Zen terms.
the state of satori, we become aware that everything in all
this world about us, all other living and non-living things, even our lowest
animal functions, are part of Absolute Being - and are thus essentially
holy. Mountains and rocks, trees and grass-blades, elephants and microbes,
all share equally in the Eternal.
permits us to go about our daily life with a new freedom, a
new sureness, a new sense of doing the work of Absolute Being even in the
smallest or dirtiest task of the present life. It is this sense also that
makes the tea ceremony in Japan a ritual of devotion; that makes a
seventeen-syllable haiku poem a universal statement of faith; that makes a
quick brush-drawing a gesture of piety in Eternity.
awareness that all things are part of Absolute Being and share
its holiness comes a sense of the interpenetration of all things. Each of us
is the apex of a cone of past ancestors, and the beliefs, acts, and events
which determined them. Each of us also is a point from which a new cone of
individuals and events will arise, each in some part a product of what we
are. We are all a part of Absolute Being, and we are all a part of each
has been described in the allegory of Indra's Net: There is an
endless net of threads throughout the universe. The horizontal threads are
in space, the vertical threads are in time. At every crossini of threads is
an individual, and every individual is a crystal bead. The great light of
Absolute Being illuminates and penetrates every crystal bead; but also every
crystal bead reflects not only the light from every other crystal in the net
- but also every reflection of every reflection throughout the universe.
Thus we learn
that we live in all other beings, all other things - and that
they live in us. Our lives are richer - and more filled with obligations -
than we ever knew before.
stories are from the annals of Zen - tales of past masters and
patriarchs, parables used in teaching, and koans used in freeing the mind
from logic. They cannot by themselves make you a participant in the Zen
experience, but they can give you pleasure as allegories and anecdotes, and
can give some savor of the intensity, spirituality, and tenacity of Zen
practitioners over the past thousand years and more.
The koan is
a riddle without a logical answer. To the casual reader some of
these riddles, and the conversations which contain them, will seem utter
nonsense. But they have been preserved and revered for centuries by serious
men, so we must look decper. For the same reason we cannot dismiss as equal
nonsense the beatings given by masters to pupils who make reasonable
answers; or the intentionally idiotic commentaries written by the master
Mumon on famous koans.
of the koans, of the beatings, of the commentaries, is to break
the mind of logic. What the master wants of the pupil is not understanding
in any usual sense. He wants to "burst the bag," and drive the pupil with
whole-souled precipitation into the Great Emptiness, the Great Stillness -
where all things stand without being touchable; where all sounds are,
without being heard.
AND KOAN RIDDLES
OF ZEN MASTERS
A MASTER who
lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk,
"What is the Way?"
"What a fine mountain this is," the master said in reply.
"I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way."
as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot
reach the Way," replied the master.
* * *
Kosen drew the words "The First Principle" which are
carved over the gate of the Oaku Temple in Kyoto. He drew them
with his brush on a sheet of paper later they were carved in wood.
A pupil of
the master had mixed the ink for him, and stood by,
watching the master's calligraphy. This pupil said, "Not so good!"
Kosen tried again. The pupil said: "That's worse than the first
one!" and Kosen tried again.
After the sixty-fourth
try, the ink was running low, and the pupil
went out to mix some more. Left alone, undistracted by any
critical eye watching him, Kosen made one more quick drawing with
the last of the ink. When the pupil returned, he took a good look
at this latest effort.
"A masterpiece!" he said.
* * *
a monk who appeared for the first time in the hall,
"Have I ever seen you here before?" The monk answered, "No sir,
you have not."
"Then have a cup of tea," said Joshu.
He turned to
another monk. "Have I ever seen you here before?" he
said. "Yes sir, of course you have," said the second monk.
"Then have a cup of tea," said Joshu.
managing monk of the monastery asked Joshu, "How is it
that you make the same offer of tea whatever the reply to your
At this Joshu shouted, "Manager, are you still here?"
master!" the manager answered. "Then have a cup of
tea," said Joshu.
* * *
Doken was told to go on a long journey to another
monastery. He was much upset, because he felt that this trip would
interrupt his studies for many months. So he said to his friend,
the advanced student Sogen:
ask permission to come with me on the trip. There are so
many things I do not know; but if you come along we can discuss
them - in this way I can learn as we travel."
said Sogen. "But let me ask you a question: If you
are hungry, what satisfaction to you if I eat rice? If your feet
are lame, what comfort to you if I go on merrily? If your bladder
is full, what relief to you if I piss?"
* * *
Tokusan used to come to the master Ryutan in the
evenings to talk and to listen. One night it was very late before
he was finished asking questions.
"Why don't you go to bed?" asked Ryutan.
and lifted the screen to go out. "The hall is very
dark," he said.
take this candle," said Ryutan, lighting one for the
Tokusan reached out his hand, and took the candle.
Ryutan leaned forward, and blew it out.
* * *
SHUZAN held up his staff and waved it before his monks.
call this a staff," he said, "you deny its eternal life.
If you do not call this a staff, you deny its present fact. Tell
me just what do you propose to call it?"
* * *
"A man sits on top of a hundred-foot pole. How can he
go farther up?"
A master answered:
"He should reach for enlightenment. Then he can
stand up into all four corners of the sky at once.
* * *
SEKKYO said to one of his monks, "Can you get hold of Emptiness?"
"I'll try" said the monk, and he cupped his hands in the air.
not very good," said Sekkyo. "You haven't got anything in
"Well, master," said the monk, "please show me a better way."
Thereupon Sekkyo seized the monk's nose and gave it a great yank.
"Ouch!" yelled the monk. "You hurt me!"
"That's the way to get hold of Emptiness!" said Sekkyo.
* * *
left his robe and bowl to his chosen successor; and
each patriarch thereafter handed it down to the monk that, in his
wisdom, he had chosen as the next successor. Gunin was the fifth
such Zen patriarch. One day he announced that his successor would
be he who wrote the best verse expressing the truth of their sect.
The learned chief monk of Gunin's monastery thereupon took brush
and ink, and wrote in elegant characters:
The body is
The soul a shining mirror:
Polish it with study
Or dust will dull the image.
No other monk
dared compete with the chief monk. But at twilight
Yeno, a lowly disciple who had been working in the kitchen, passed
through the hall where the poem was hanging. Having read it, he
picked up a brush that was lying nearby, and below the other poem
he wrote in his crude hand:
Bodhi is not
There is no shining mirror.
Since All begins with Nothing
Where can dust collect?
night Gunin, the fifth patriarch, called Yeno to his
room. "I have read your poem," said he, "and have chosen you as my
successor. Here: take my robe and my bowl. But our chief monk and
the others will be jealous of you and may do you harm. Therefore I
want you to leave the monastery tohight, while the others are
In the morning
the chief monk learned the news, and immediately
rushed out, following the path Yeno had taken. At midday he
overtook him, and without a word tried to pull the robe and bowl
out of Yeno's hands.
Yeno put down
the robe and the bowl on a rock by the path. "These
are only things which are symbols," he said to the monk. "If you
want the things so much, please take them."
The monk eagerly
reached down and seized the objects. But he could
not budge them. They had become heavy as a mountain.
me," he said at last, "I really want the teaching, not
the things. Will you teach me?"
"Stop thinking this is mine and stop thinking this
is not mine. Then tell me, where are you? Tell me also: what did
your face look like, before your parents were born?"
* * *
"Suppose you meet a Zen master on the road. You can't
talk to him. You can't stand there silent. What can you do?"
[To this koan, one of Mumon's comments was: "Whack him one!"]
* * *
A FAMOUS soldier
came to the master Hakuin and asked: "Master,
tell me: is there really a heaven and a hell?"
"Who are you?" asked Hakuin.
"I am a soldier of the great Emperor's personal guard."
said Hakuin. "What kind of emperor would have you
around him? To me you look like a beggar!" At this, the soldier
started to rattle his big sword in anger. "Oho!" said Hakuin. "So
you have a sword! I'll wager it's much too dull to cut my head
At this the
soldier could not hold himself back. He drew his sword
and threatened the master, who said: "Now you know half the
answer! You are opening the gates of hell!"
drew back, sheathed his sword, and bowed. "Now you
know the other half," said the master. "You have opencd the gates
* * *
Doko came to a Zen master, and said: "I am seeking the
truth. In what state of mind should I train myself, so as to find
Said the master,
"There is no mind, so you cannot put it in any
state. There is no truth, so you cannot train yourself for it."
is no mind to train, and no truth to find, why do you
have these monks gather before you every day to study Zen and
train themselves for this study?"
haven't an inch of room here," said the master, so how
could the monks gather? I have no tongue, so how could I call them
together or teach them?"
can you lie like this?" asked Doko. "But if I have no
tongue to talk to others, how can I lie to you?" asked the master.
Then Doko said
sadly, "I cannot follow you. I cannot understand
"I cannot understand myself," said the master.
* * *
BASO said to
a monk, "If I see you have a staff, I will give it to
you. If I see you have no staff, I will take it away from you.
* * *
Nansen found two groups of monks, from the East hall
and the West hall, squabbling over the ownership of a pet cat. He
picked up the cat, waved it in the air over his head, and said to
good word if you want to save the cat!" No one said a word.
Nansen went to the kitchen, brought back a big cleaver, and
chopped the cat in half. He gave one-half to each group.
when Joshu returned to the monastery, Nansen told him
the story. Joshu said nothing; but he took off his sandals,
balanced them on his head, and walked away.
Nansen said aloud, "Joshu could have saved the cat."
* * *
was only twelve years old. But since he was a pupil at
the Kennin temple, he wanted to be given a koan to ponder, just
like the more advanced students. So one evening, at the proper
time, he went to the room of Mokurai, the master, struck the gong
softly to announce his presence, bowed, and sat before the master
in respectful silence.
master said: "Toyo, show me the sound of two hands
Toyo clapped his hands.
said the master. "Now show me the sound of one hand
Toyo was silent.
Finally he bowed and left to consider this
The next night
he returned, and struck the gong with one palm.
"That is not right," said the master. The next night Toyo returned
and played geisha music with one hand. "That is not right," said
the master. The next night Toyo returned, and imitated the
dripping of water.
is not right," said the master. The next night Toyo
returned, and imitated the cricket scraping his leg. "That is
still not right," said the master.
For ten nights
Toyo tried new sounds. At last he stopped coming to
the master. For a year he thought of every sound, and discarded
them all, until fnally he reached enlightenment.
respectfully to the master. Without striking the gong,
he sat down and bowed. "I have heard sound without sound," he
* * *
A MONK came
to the master Nansen and asked, "Tell me, is there
some teaching that no master has ever taught?"
Nansen said, "There is."
The monk asked, "Can you tell me what it is?"
"It is not Buddha. It is not things. It is not
* * *
to his disciples; "Each of you has a pair of ears,
but what have you ever heard with them? Each of you has a mouth,
but what have you ever said with it? Each of you has eyes, but
what have you ever seen with them? No, no! You have never heard,
never spoken, never seen, never smelled.
such a case where do all these colors, shapes, sounds,
smells, come from?"
* * *
WHO is the
Buddha? What is the Buddha? Here are some of the
answers given by various masters to this question:
clay, with gold-leaf.
The one there in the hall.
He isn't Buddha.
The mountains are traveling over the sea.
Look at that three-legged donkey.
The mouth is the gateway of woe.
The best artist doesn't know how to paint him.
The bamboo grove out in back.
* * *
Gutei made a practice of raising his finger whenever he
explained a question about Zen. A very young disciple began to
imitate him, and every time Gutei raised his finger when he
preached, this boy would raise his finger too. Everybody laughed.
One day Gutei
caught him at it. He took the boy's hand, whipped
out a knife, cut off the finger and threw it away. The boy walked
shouted Gutei. The boy stopped, and looked at the master
through his tears. Gutei raised his finger. The boy raised his
finger. Then suddenly he realized it wasn't there. He hesitated a
Then he bowed.
* * *
Ikkyu showed his wisdom even as a child. Once he broke
the precious heirloom teacup of his teacher, and was greatly
upset. While he was wondering what to do, he heard his teacher
coming. Quickly he hid the pieces of the cup under his robe.
"Master," he said, "why do things die?"
perfectly natural for things to die and for the matter
gathered in them to separate and disintegrate," said the teacher.
"When its time has come every person and every thing must go.
said little Ikkyu, showing the pieces, "it was time for
your cup to go.
* * *
in front of a picture of Bodhidharma. In the picture
Bodhidharma was wearing a beard.
"Now why doesn't that fellow wear a beard?" asked Wakuan.
* * *
time the holy Buddhist books in Chinese had never
been published in Japanese, and Tetsugen thought they should be
prepared so for his own countrymen. He planned to have several
thousand copies printed from hand-engraved woodblocks, and went
from town to town to collect donations so this great work could go
ahead. After ten years he had the money needed, and started to
have the blocks cut.
Just then the
Uji river flooded, and there was famine in the land.
Tetsugen took the money he had collected, and bought rice for the
starving people. Then he started out to collect his funds again.
Whether the donation was a little one or in coins of gold, he was
equally grateful. After some years, he had the money again.
Then an epidemic
passed over the country. Thousands of families
were left without support. So Tetsugen spent all the money he had
collected, helping the helpless. When it was all gone, he started
collecting it again.
great project was accomplished, and he died content.
Tetsugen's edition of the holy books in Japanese can still be
seen. But those who know, say that the first two editions, which
have never been seen, far surpass the third.
* * *
Nan-in had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen. But
instead of listening, the visitor kept talking about his own
After a while,
Nan-in served tea. He poured tea into his visitor's
cup until it was full, then he kept on pouring.
visitor could not restrain himself. "Don't you see
it's full?" he said. "You can't get any more in!"
so," replied Nan-in, stopping at last. "And like this cup,
you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give
you Zen unless you offer me an empty cup?"
* * *
A MASTER was
asked the question, "What is the Way?" by a curious
"It is right before your eyes," said the master.
"Why do I not see it for myself?"
"Because you are thinking of yourself."
"What about you: do you see it?"
as you see double, saying I don't and you do, and so on,
your eyes are clouded," said the master.
"When there is neither 'I' nor 'You,' can one see it?"
there is neither 'I' nor 'You,' who is the one that wants to
* * *
THE NUN Chiyono
studied for years but was unable to find
enlightenment. One moonlight night she was carrying an old pail,
filled with water. She was watching the full moon reflected in
this water, when the bamboo strip that held the pailstaves broke.
The pail fell all apart; the water rushed out; the moon's
reflection disappeared. And Chiyono found enlightenment. She wrote
This way and
I tried to keep the pail together
Hoping the weak bamboo
Would never break.
bottom fell out:
No more water:
No more moon in the water:
Emptiness in my hand!
* * *
A STUDENT came
before the master Bankei and asked to be helped in
getting rid of his violent temper.
"Show me this temper," said Bankei. "It sounds very fascinating."
got it right now, so I can't show it to you, said the
"Well then," said Bankei,"bring it to me when you have it."
can't bring it just when I happen to have it," protested
the student. "I'd surely lose it again before I got it to you.
a case," said Bankei, "it seems to me that this temper is
not part of your true nature. If it is not part of you, it must
come into you from outside. I suggest that whenever it gets into
you, you beat yourself with a stick until the temper can't stand
it, and runs away."
* * *
A NEW monk
came up to the master Joshu. "I have just entered the
brotherhood and I am anxious to learn the first principle of Zen,"
he said. "Will you please teach it to me?"
Joshu said, "Have you eaten your supper?"
answered, "I have eaten." Joshu said, "Now wash your
* * *
sat facing a wall for nine years of meditation. At one
time a Confucian monk came to him for teaching. But Bodhidharma
sat unmoving and unspeaking for seven days and nights, while the
monk pleaded for his attention. Finally the monk could stand no
more, and to show his sincerity, he took a great sword, cut off
his arm, and carried it to Bodhidharma.
He said: "Here
is a token of my sincerity. I have been seeking
peace for my soul for many years, and I know that you can show me
how to find it."
said, "Do not bring me your arm. Bring me your soul,
so I can give it peace as you request.
"But that is the very trouble," said the monk,
"I cannot grasp my soul or find it, much less bring it to you.
"You see," said Bodhidharma, "I have given you peace of soul."
* * *
A GREAT official
came to the master Takuan asking for help in
passing his days more eventfully. All day long, he explained, he
sat receiving supplications and reports, and he found it all very
dull. Takuan took brush and paper, and wrote eight Chinese
characters. Translated, they said:
No day comes
One inch of time is worth
A foot of jade.
* * *
KOKUSHI called to his attendant: "Oshin!"
Oshin replied, "Yes."
Kokushi called "Oshin!"
Oshin replied, "Yes."
Kokushi called again, "Oshin!"
Oshin replied again, "Yes."
"I apologize for all this calling of your name. But
in truth you should apologize to me!"
* * *
to become a great swordsman, but his father said
he wasn't quick enough and could never learn. So Matajura went to
the famous dueller Banzo, and asked to become his pupil. "How long
will it take me to become a master?" he asked. "Suppose I became
your servant, to be with you every minute; how long?"
"Ten years," said Banzo.
is getting old. Before ten years have passed I will
have to return home to take care of him. Suppose I work twice as
hard; how long will it take me?"
"Thirty years," said Banzo.
that?" asked Matajura. "First you say ten years. Then when
I offer to work twice as hard, you say it will take three times as
long. Let me make myself clear: I will work unceasingly: no
hardship will be too much. How long will it take?"
years" said Banzo. "A pupil in such a hurry learns
Without asking for any promises in terms of
time, he became Banzo's servant. He cleaned, he cooked, he washed,
he gardened. He was ordered never to speak of fencing or to touch
a sword. He was very sad at this; but he had given his promise to
the master, and resolved to keep his word. Three years passed for
Matajura as a servant.
One day while
he was gardening, Banzo came up quietly behind him
and gave him a terrible whack with a wooden sword. The next day in
the kitchen the same blow fell again. Thereafter, day in, day out,
from every corner and at any moment, he was attacked by Banzo's
wooden sword. He learned to live on the balls of his feet, ready
to dodge at any movement. He became a body with no desires, no
thoughts - only eternal readiness and quickness.
and started lessons. Soon Matajura was the greatest
swordsman in Japan.
* * *
Getsuan said: "Keichu, the first wheelmaker, made two
wheels. Each had fifty spokes. Suppose you cut out the hubs? Would
there still be a wheel?"
* * *
JOSHU asked the teacher Nansen, "What is the true Way?"
Nansen answered, "Everyday way is the true Way."
Joshu asked, "Can I study it?"
Nansen answered, "The more you study, the further from the Way."
Joshu asked, "If I don't study it, how can I know it?"
"The Way does not belong to things seen: nor to
things unseen. It does not belong to things known: nor to things
unknown. Do not seek it, study it, or name it. To find yourself on
it, open yourself wide as the sky."
* * *
master of Zen and a great fencer, served as tutor to
the Emperor. But he always wore old ragged clothes, for he opened
his house to the poor, and gave them everything he had.
was annoyed thatYamaoka came to him with old clothes,
so he gave the master some gold coins saying, "Go, my son, and buy
new clothes." The master thanked him; but the next day he returned
in the same old outfit.
"And where are the new clothes?" asked the Emperor.
them," said the master, "But I gave them to other
children of your Majesty who are not so rich as I."
* * *
Tozan was weighing some flax. A monk came up to him in
the storeroom and said, "Tell me, what is Buddha?"
Tozan answered, "Here: five pounds of flax."
* * *
Foso Hoyen said, "They say that Buddha during his
lifetime uttered five thousand and forty-eight separate truths.
They include the truth of Emptiness and the truth of Being. They
include the truth of sudden enlightenment and the truth of gradual
enlightenment. Are not all these yea-sayings?
the other hand, Yoka in the Song of Enlightenment says
there are no beings and no Buddhas; sages are sea-bubbles; and
great minds arc only the flickerings of lightning. Are not all
disciples, if you say Yea, you deny Yoka; if you say Nay,
you contradict Buddha. If Buddha were here with you, how would he
solve this problem?
knew where we stand, we would question Buddha every
morning, and greet him every night. But as we don't know where we
stand, I will let you into a secret: When I say this is so,
perhaps it is not a yea-saying. When I say this is not so, perhaps
it is not a nay-saying. Turn to the East and see the holy Western
Land; face South to see the Northern Star."
* * *
Tanzan and Ekido, were walking down a muddy street in
the city. They came on a lovely young girl dressed in fine silks,
who was afraid to cross because of all the mud.
on, girl," said Tanzan. And he picked her up in his arms,
and carried her across.
The two monks
did not speak again till nightfall. Then, when they
had returned to the monastery, Ekido couldn't keep quiet any
shouldn't go near girls,' he said ­p; "certainly not
beautiful ones like that one! Why did you do it?"
fellow," said Tanzan. "I put that girl down, way back in
the city. It's you who are still carrying her!"
* * *
JOSHU was a
master who started to study Zen when he was sixty.
When he was eighty he found enlightenment. They say that he taught
for forty years thereafter.
Once a student
asked old Joshu: "You teach that we must empty our
minds. I have nothing in my mind. Now what shall I do?"
"Throw it out!" said Joshu.
"But I have nothing. How can I throw it out?"
can't throw it out, carry it out! Drive it out! Empty it
out! But don't stand there in front of me with nothing in your
* * *
OF THE Zen
saying: "Buddha preached for forty-nine years, but his
tongue never moved," the master Gensha said:
teachers say that Buddhism helps us in every possible way,
but think: how can it help the blind, the deaf, or the dumb? The
blind cannot see the teacher's staff that is raised before them.
The deaf cannot hear the teacher's words, no matter how wise. The
dumb cannot ask their questions or speak their understanding. So
since we cannot help these people, how can we say Buddhism helps
in every possible way? What good is it?"
later a monk asked the master Ummon to explain these
words of Gensha. After making the questioner prostrate himself and
then rise, Ummon poked at him with his stick. The monk jumped
said Ummon, "I see you are not blind!" Then he told the
monk to come forward, which he did.
said Ummon, "I see you are not deaf!" Then he asked the
monk if he understood what all this to-do was about. The monk said
he did not.
"Ah-ha!" said Ummon, "I see you are not dumb!"
* * *
named O-nami, Great Waves, was immensely strong and was
highly skilled in the art of wrestling. In private he defeated
even his very teacher, but in public his own young pupils could
In his trouble
he went to a Zen master who was stopping at a
nearby temple by the sea, and asked for counsel.
Waves is your name," said the master, "so stay in this
temple tonight, and listen to the waves of the sea. Imagine you
are those waves. Forget that you are a wrestler, and become those
huge waves sweeping everything before them." And the teacher left.
He tried to think only of the waves, but he
thought of many things. Then gradually he did think only of the
waves. They rolled larger and larger as the night wore on. They
swept away the flowers in the vases before the Buddha. They swept
away the vases. Even the bronze Buddha was swept away. By dawn the
temple was only surging water, and O-nami sat there with a faint
smile on his face.
That day he
entered the public wrestling, and won every bout. From
that day, no one in Japan could ever throw him.
* * *
Riko once asked Nansen to explain to him the old
problem of the goose in the bottle. "If a man puts a gosling into
the bottle" he said, "and feeds the gosling through the
bottle-neck until it grows and grows and becomes a goose, and then
there just is no more room inside the bottle, how can the man get
it out without killing the goose, or breaking the bottle?"
"Riko!" shouted Nansen, and gave a great clap with his hands.
"Yes, master," said the official with a start.
"See!" said Nansen, "the goose is out!"
* * *
a worldly man, but he thought he ought to study Zen. So
he went to a great teacher, who told him to concentrate on the
famous koan: "What is the sound of one hand?" Mamiya went away,
and came back a week later, shaking his head. He could not get it.
said the master. "You are not trying hard enough. You
still think of money and food and pleasure. It would be better if
you died. Then you might learn the answer."
The next week
Mamiya came back again. When the master asked him:
"Well, what is the sound of one hand?" he clutched at his heart,
groaned, and fell down dead.
you've taken my advice and died," said the master. "But
what about that sound?"
Mamiya opened one eye. "I haven't solved that yet," he said.
"Dead men don't speak," said the master. "Get up, and get out!"
* * *
two Zen temples in the town of Kyoto, and each had a
bright young student who was sent on errands. The North temple
sent its boy every day to buy vegetables. On his way he was met by
the boy of the South temple.
"Where are you going?" asked the South temple boy.
"Wherever my feet will carry me," replied the other.
silenced the South temple boy, and he went back and
told the story to his teacher. Not to be outdone by the rival
pupil, the teacher suggested: "When you meet that boy tomorrow,
ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and
then you say: 'Suppose you had no feet then where would you be
going?' That will fix him!"
The next day
the two boys met. The boy from the South temple said:
"Where are you going?"
"Wherever the wind will blow me," replied the other.
silenced the boy from the South temple, so he went back
to consult his teacher. "I tell you what," said the teacher,
"tomorrow you ask him: 'suppose there is no wind?'"
The next day
the two boys met again. The boy from the South temple
said: "Where are you going?"
The other answered, "To buy vegetables."
* * *
to his pupils: "Zen is a man hanging from a tree over
a cliff. He is holding on to a twig with his teeth. His hands hold
no branch. His feet find no branch. Up on the cliff-edge a man
shouts at him: 'Why did Bodhidharma come from Jndia into China?'
fails to answer he is lost. If he answers, he dies. What
must he do?"
* * *
Shichiri was reciting the sutras when a robber entered
his room, put a knife to his back, and demanded his money. "Over
there in the box," said Shichiri, going on with his recitation.
As the robber
was leaving, Shichiri said, "Leave me some for my
taxes; they are coming around tomorrow to collect." So the robber
put back some of the money and started to leave.
you thank someone who makes you a gift?" asked Shichiri. So
the robber thanked him, and went off.
A few days
later the robber was caught; and among other
confessions, he said he had robbed Shichiri. But Shichiri refused
to testify against him. "I made him a gift of some money," he
said. "And he thanked me for it. That was all."
served a prison term. When he was freed, he went
directly to Shichiri. "Will you be my teacher?" he said.
* * *
THE MONK Zuigan
used to start every day by saying to himself out
loud: "Master, are you there?"
And he would answer himself, "Yes sir, I am!"
Then he would say, "Better sober up!"
Again he would answer, "Yes sir! I'll do that!"
Then he would say, "Look out now; don't let them fool you!"
And he would answer, "Oh no, sir, I won't! I won't!"
* * *
A RICH merchant
asked the master Sengai for a good saying that
would help preserve the prosperity and happiness of his family.
The master took brush and ink, and wrote:
was angry. "What kind of evil spell are you writing
against my family?" he demanded of Sengai.
no evil spell," said Sengai, "but a hope for your greatest
good fortune. I wish that every man of your family shall live to
be a grandfather. And I wish that no son may die before his
father. What truer happiness than life and death in this order can
any family desire?"
* * *
disciple of Buddha, had reached the enlightenment of
Great Emptiness, where the Eternal Real and the passing unreal are
one. Sitting under a tree in this enlightenment, he found flowers
drifting down on him from the tree. And he heard voices. "We are
praising your eloquence on Emptiness," said these voices like
"But I have not spoken of Emptiness," murmured Subhuti.
not spoken of it. We have not heard it. This is true
Emptiness," said the voices, and the flowers fell like rain.
* * *
Ryokan lived in a poor little hut on a mountainside.
One moonlight night he came home and found a burglar looking for
something to steal. But Ryokan was a hermit who owned nothing.
fellow," he said to the robber. "You have come a long way
and have found nothing. But I don't want you to leave me
empty-handed. Please take my clothes." And Ryokan stripped, and
handed the clothes to the robber.
fellow," said naked Ryokan, going outdoors again when the
inconsiderate robber had left, "How I wish I could have given him
this wonderful moon."
* * *
A NEW monastery
was to be opened, and the master Hyakujo had to
decide which of his monks should be put in charge. So he called
the monks together, filled a vase with water, and said to them:
"Which one of you can say what this is without giving its name?"
The chief monk,
who expected to be given the new mastership, spoke
first. "It stands upright, it is hollow inside, but it is not a
wooden shoe," he said.
Another monk said, "It is not a pond, because it can be carried."
Then the cook,
lowest of the monks, arose. He kicked over the vase
with his foot, so the water ran out on to the floor. He had shown
how to achieve emptiness.
Hyakujo gave him the job.
* * *
ONE WINDY day two monks were arguing about a flapping banner.
The first said, "I say the banner is moving, not the wind."
The second said, "I say the wind is moving, not the banner.'
A third monk
passed by and said, "The wind is not moving. The
banner is not moving. Your minds are moving."
* * *
HERE is a story
the Zen masters sometimes told: There was an old
woman who was born in the same town as Buddha, but ever since she
had been a little girl she had been afraid to face him, although
everyone assured her he was a very holy man. Every time she
thought she might meet him, she ran away. One day she was on the
road which led to town, and she saw approaching a venerable man in
a saffron robe. It was the Buddha. She was terrified. She couldn't
run, but she refused to look. She covered her eyes with her two
hands - but wonder of wonders! the tighter she covered her eyes,
the clearer she saw the Buddha between each of her clenched
fingers. Tell me, who was the old lady?
* * *
Tosotsu built three gates and made the monks pass
through them. The first gatewas the study of Zen. By studying Zen
you can see your own true nature. But where is it?
By going through
the second gate, you can free yourself from birth
and death. But when you are a corpse, how can you free yourself?
the third gate, your body separates into the four
elements. But where are you?
* * *
was preaching quietly to his followers, his talk was
interrupted by a Shinshu priest who believed in miracles, and
thought salvation came from repeating holy words.
unable to go on with his talk, and asked the priest
what he wanted to say.
of my religion," boasted the priest, "stood on one
shore of a river with a writing brush in his hand. His disciple
stood on the other shore holding a sheet of paper. And the founder
wrote the holy name of Amida onto the paper across the river
through the air. Can you do anything so miraculous?"
said Bankei, "I can do only little miracles. Like: when I am
hungry, I eat; when I am thirsty, I drink; when I am insulted, I
* * *
A NUN, who
searched for enlightenment in many temples, always
carried with her a little Buddha she had carved for herself out of
wood, and which she had covered with gold leaf. It was very
One day she
came to stay at a temple where there were many
Buddhas. Whenever she burned incense before her golden Buddha, she
begrudged the others any of the savor, and so she always used a
little funnel that carried the smoke of the incense straight to
her Buddha's nose. Within a week her Buddha was laughable - his
face no longer was gold leaf, but black smut.
* * *
A MONK asked
the master Joshu: "Does a dog too possess a Buddha
nature, or does he not?"
Joshu made his famous koan: "Un-thing!"
* * *
Seihei once asked the master Suibi if he would please
tell him the basic principle of Buddhism. He did this by asking:
"Why did Bodhidharma come out of India into China?"
said Suibi. "Later, when there is no one around except us
two, I will tell you."
day they were alone together several times, and several
times Seihei started to ask his question again, but each time the
master put his fingers to his lips. Finally, Seihei insisted on an
answer. Suibi took him outside.
"There is no one here. Tell me!" said Seihei.
"These bamboos here are tall. Those bamboos there
are short. That is why Bodhidharnia came to China!"
* * *
to the master Hyakujo: "They say that centuries ago a
master was reborn as a fox five hundred times, because he gave
answers untrue to Zen. But now suppose a master were asked
question after question, and always gave a right and wise Zen
answer. What happens to him?"
"Come here near me," said master Hyakujo, "and I will answer you."
stepped up to Hyakujo, and slapped the master's face.
He knew this was the answer the master had intended for him.
Hyakujo laughed. "I always knew Persians had red
beards," he said, "and now I know a Persian who has a red beard."
* * *
AN OLD Zen
master always told this fable to unserious students:
Late one night a blind man was about to go home after visiting a
friend. "Please," he said to his friend, "May I take your lantern
a lantern?" asked his friend. "You won't see any better
said the blind one, "perhaps not. But others will see me
better, and not bump into me. So his friend gave the blind man the
lantern, which was made of paper on bamboo strips, with a candle
Off went the
blind man with the lantern, and before he had gone
more than a few yards, Crack! -someone walked right into him. The
blind man was very angry. "Why don't you look out?" he stormed.
"Why don't you see this lantern?"
"Why don't you light the candle?" asked the other.
* * *
was a brash young student, he visited the master
Dokuon. Wanting to impress the master, he said:
is no mind, there is no body, there is no Buddha. There is
no better, there is no worse. There is no master and there is no
student; there is no giving, there is no receiving. What we think
we see and feel is not real. All that is real is Emptiness. None
of these seeming things really exists."
been sitting quietly smoking his pipe, and saying
nothing. Now he picked up his staff, and without warning gave
Yamaoka a terrible whack. Yamaoka jumped up in anger.
none of these things really exists," said Dokuon, "and all
is Emptiness, where does your anger come from? Think about it."
* * *
A PUZZLED monk
once said to Fuketsu: "You say truth can be
expressed without speaking, and without keeping silent. How can
"In Southern China in the Spring, when I was
only a lad, ah! how birds sang among the blossoms."
* * *
this parable: A traveler, fleeing a tiger who was
chasing him, ran till he came to the edge of a cliff. There he
caught hold of a thick vine, and swung himself over the edge.
Above him the
tiger snarled. Below him he heard another snarl, and
behold, there was another tiger, peering up at him. The vine
suspended him midway between two tigers.
Two mice, a
white mouse and a black mouse, began to gnaw at the
vine. He could see they were quickly eating it through. Then in
front of him on the cliffside he saw a luscious bunch of grapes.
Holding onto the vine with one hand, he reached and picked a grape
with the other.