10 Short Zen Stories
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.
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One day a man stumbled upon a 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, 2 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!
2 men were arguing about a flag flapping in the wind. One thought the flag was moving the other thought the wind was moving.
A Zen master, who was walking by, overheard the debate and said: “Neither the flag nor the wind is moving,” he said, “It is MIND that moves.”
Ikkyu, the Zen master, was very clever even as a boy.
Once, he broke his teacher's teacup. Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, he held the pieces of the cup behind him and asked the teacher why did people have to die. The teacher answered that everything has to die and has just so long to live.
Ikkyu, producing the shattered cup, added: “It was time for your cup to die.”
A young Buddhist on a journey pondered for hours on how to cross a wide river he came upon. As he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river and yelled asking how he could get to the other side.
The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back, “My son, you are on the other side”.
A soldier named Nobushige asked Hakuin if heaven and hell were real. Hakuin answered with provocations until the soldier drew his sword.
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!” At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed. “Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.
Nan-in, a Japanese master, received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor said. “It is overfull. No more will go in!” “Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived a simple life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal. Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me and you shoud not return emptyhanded. Please take my clothes as a gift.” The thief was bewildered but took the clothes. Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
A martial arts student went to his teacher and asked how long it would take to master his system. The teacher answered 10 years. The student got impatient and said he would work hard and practice many hours everyday. The teacher pondered and said: “20 years.”
An old farmer that couldn’t work anymore spent days sitting on the porch. His son, still working the farm, got so aggravated that his father was useless, that he built a wood coffin and told his father to get in. The son closed and dragged the coffin to a high cliff , where he heard a tapping on the lid and opened it up. Peacefully lying there, the father said: “Throw me over the cliff, if you like, but save the coffin. Your children might need to use it.”
Religions from all over the world have used storytelling as a medium to convey their messages of wisdom.
One such religion is Buddhism, which for centuries has used parables, anecdotes, fables and tales to help people develop awareness by offering them enlightening insights and moral life lessons. This culminates in the teachings of Zen Buddhism, a tradition famous for using short stories extensively to arise in Buddhist monks and students a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of reality.
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A university professor researching Zen sought master Nan-in, who served him tea. Nan-in poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
A farmer was consoled by his neighbors who claimed it was bad luck his horse ran away. The farmer replied “Maybe.” The horse returned with more horses, so his neighbors said it was luck. The farmer said “Maybe.” Later a horse broke his son leg and the neighbors said it was a misfortune. The farmer said “Maybe.” The next day his son escaped conscription thanks to his broken leg and the neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. The farmer said “Maybe.”
Time goes on and good and bad are two sides of the same coin. Being aware of this allows us to find peace and happiness.
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"… The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness. Our parents may be able to leave us money, houses, and land, but they may not be happy people...
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