101 Zen Stories

Traveler: "What kind of weather are we going to have today?"

Shepherd: "The kind of weather I like."

Traveler: "How do you know it will be the kind of weather you like?"

Shepherd: "Having found out, sir, that I cannot always get what I like, I have learned to always like what I get. So I am quite sure we will have the kind of weather I like."
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."

Source: Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
Ritual Cat

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

Source: Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
A group of college students begged novelist Sinclair Lewis to give them a lecture, explaining that all of them were to become writers themselves.

Lewis began with: "How many of you really intend to be writers?" All hands were raised.

"In that case, there is no point in my talking. My advice to you is: go home and write, write, write..."

With that, he returned his notes to his pocket and left the room.
"Thank God we took a mule with us on the picnic because when one of the boys was injured we used the mule to carry him back."

"How did he get injured?"

"The mule kicked him."
The other side

One day a young Buddhist on his journey home, came to the banks of a wide river.
Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on
just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just 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. The
young Buddhist yells over to the teacher, "Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get
to the other side of this river?" The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and
down the river and yells back, "My son, you are on the other side."

Source: A Lighter Side of Buddhism
It is said that soon after his enlightenment the Buddha
passed a man on the road who was struck by the Bud-
dha's extraordinary radiance and peaceful presence.
The man stopped and asked, "My friend, what are you?
Are you a celestial being or a god?"
"No," said the Buddha.
"Well, then, are you some kind of magician or wizard?"
Again the Buddha answered, "No."
"Are you a man?"
"Well, my friend, what then are you?" The Buddha re-
plied, "I am awake."

Source: The Teachings of the Buddha by Jack Kornfield
When an accident deprived the village headman of the use of his legs, he took to walking on crutches. He gradually developed the ability to move with speed -- even to dance and execute little pirouettes for the entertainment of his neighbors.

Then he took it into his head to train his children in the use of crutches. It soon became a status symbol in the village to walk on crutches, and before long everyone was doing so.

By the fourth generation no one in the village could walk without crutches. The village school included "Crutchery -- Theoretical -- Applied" in its curriculum and the village craftsmen became famous for the quality of the crutches they produced. There was even talk of developing an electronic, battery-operated set of crutches!

One day a young Turk presented himself before the village elders and demanded to know why everyone had to walk on crutches since they had been provided with legs to walk on. The village elders were amused that this upstart should think himself wiser than they so they decided to teach him a lesson. "Why don't you show us how?" they said.

"Agreed!" replied the young man.

A demonstration was fixed for the following Sunday at the village square. Everyone was there when the young man hobbled on his crutches to the middle of the square, stood upright, and dropped his crutches. A hush fell on the crowd as he took a bold step forward -- and fell flat on his face.

With that everyone was confirmed in their belief that it was quite impossible to walk without the help of crutches.
One day God took the form of a human male, in order to walk through the world and see how His/Her children were faring. He soon came upon an old ascetic who had spent his entire adult life in severe bodily mortification and forceful mental disciplines.

The ascetic had gained a certain degree of clarity of his senses from his prolonged practice and realized that the man casually walking by his cave was fully established in awareness of the inner Divine Self. Painfully unwinding his body from his rigid posture, the ascetic bowed before God and said, "Great-Souled One! I perceive you are an illumined master. Pray tell me, honorable sir, how long it will take me before I realize my inner Divine Nature?"

God smiled warmly and laughingly replied, "You are doing well! At your present rate of progress, you will realize your inner Divine Self with just one more lifetime of similar effort."

The ascetic, terrified, in shock, cried, "Another lifetime of this horror?! How can I endure this boredom, this agony, this pain for another day, let alone another lifetime! How horrible! You have cursed me this day! Begone from this place, you imposter! Never would I believe such as you."

God smiled lovingly at him and walked on, soon coming upon an idiot splashing in the river, laughing and singing. This woman's primary activity every day was to cry out, "God! How I love God! God! I love God! God!" This foolish one never took the slightest care for her physical needs, never cared if she were fed, clothed, housed. She never noticed if she were clean or dirty, hot or cold, wet or dry. She might have been locked up in a padded cell in our modern age, but in those days, people saw that she was harmless and therefore tolerated her and occasionally gave her a crust of bread or some old, half-rotten fruits or vegetables to eat.

This idiot was attracted by the radiance of this handsome stranger, came up out of the water, bowed before him and said, "How wonderful! God has sent by a Great-Souled One. I have been enjoying myself so much of late I had nearly forgotten I have a goal. I began my quest to realize enlightenment long ago but of late have become distracted by this constant joy welling up inside. Seeing you just now reminded me of my journey and I was wondering if you could tell me how long it will be before I realize my inner Divine Nature?"

God smiled warmly and laughingly replied, "You are doing well! At your present rate of progress, you will realize your inner Divine Self with just seventy more lifetimes of similar effort."

"Seventy lifetimes of similar effort!" cried the idiot with perfect joy. "How wonderful! What a flawless boon you have today bestowed upon me!"

The idiot was so filled with joy at the prospect of another seventy lifetimes of such bliss that the last doubt fled from her mind; her last question melted into the joy that was her life; her ignorance was irrevocably crushed; she attained the highest state of enlightenment instantly.
Chasing Two Rabbits

A martial arts student approached his teacher with a question. "I'd like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts.
In addition to learning from you, I'd like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you
think of this idea?"

"The hunter who chases two rabbits," answered the master, "catches neither one."

Source: Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
Once upon a time, twins were conceived. Weeks passed and the twins developed. As their awareness grew, they laughed for joy: "Isn't it great that we were conceived? Isn't it great to be alive?"

Together the twins explored their worlds. When they found their mother's cord that gave them life, they sang for joy!

"How great our mother's love is, that she shares her own life with us!"

As weeks stretched into months, the twins noticed how much each was changing.

"What does it mean?" one asked.

"It means our stay in this world is drawing to an end," said the other.

"But I don't want to go," said one. "I want to stay here always."

"We have no choice," said the other. "But maybe there is life after birth."

"But how can there be? We will shed our life cord and how can life be possible without it? Besides, we have seen evidence that others were here before us, and none of them has returned to tell us there is life after birth. No, this is the end. Maybe there is no mother after all."

"But there has to be," protested the other. "How else did we get here?"

"How do we remain alive? Have you ever seen our mother?" said one. "Maybe she only lives in our minds. Maybe we made her up because the idea made us feel good."

So the last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear. Finally, the moment of birth arrived. When the twins had passed from their world, they opened their eyes and cried for joy -- for what they saw exceeded their fondest dreams.
A Zen monk named Ichhi labored his whole life in the kitchen of the great monastery at Lake Hakkone. He deemed himself a failed monk because he had been assigned the koan of "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" since his earliest days in the congregation and had never been able to solve it. It was now fifty-five years of seeming failure, and he was nearing the end of his lifetime.

But as he lay dying he suddenly realized that he cradled a great peace in his soul. Gone was the striving for enlightenment, gone was the stridency of his loins, and gone was the haunting koan -- for he had found the stillness of no longer striving in this exquisite silence alone in the attic in the soft dark at the end of his life.

It was only then, when there remained no more questions nor need for answers (or even the need for breathing) that Ichhi heard at last the whooshing silence of one hand clapping.
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, "Aren't we not suppose to talk?"
The third monk said, "Why must you two break the silence?" The fourth monk laughed
and said, "Ha! I'm the only one who didn't speak."

Source: Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors
A Parable

Buddha told a parable in a sutra:

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the
tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root
of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger
sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to
where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the
vine sustained him.

Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw
away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him.
Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with
the other. How sweet it tasted!

Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
An elderly carpenter was ready to retire...

One day, he told his employer-contractor of his plans to leave the house building business and live a more leisurely life with his wife, enjoying his extended family. He would miss the paycheck, but he felt he needed to retire. They could get by, he thought. Upon hearing the news, the contractor was sorry to see his good worker go. He asked the carpenter if he could build just one more house as a personal favor. The carpenter said yes, but in time it was easy to see that his heart was not in his work any longer. He resorted to shoddy workmanship and used inferior materials. It was an unfortunate way to end his career.

When the carpenter finished his work and the builder came to inspect the house, the contractor handed the front-door key to the carpenter. "This is your house," he said, "my gift to you!"

What a shock! If he had only known he was building his own house, he would have done it all so differently. Now he had to live in the home he had built none too well.

So it is with us. We build our lives in a distracted way, reacting rather than acting, willing to put up less than the best. At important points we do not give the job our best effort. Then with a shock we look at the situation we have created and find that we are now living in the house we have built. If only we had realized, then we would have done it differently.

Think of yourself as the carpenter. Think about your house each day you hammer a nail, place a board, or erect a wall. Build wisely! Even if you live it for only one day more, that day deserves to be lived graciously and with dignity. The plaque on the wall says, "Life is a do-it-yourself project." Who could say it more clearly? Your life today is the result of your attitudes and choices in the past. Your life tomorrow will be the result of your attitudes and the choices you make today.
A martial artist knelt before his master sensei in a ceremony to receive the hard-earned Black Belt. After years of relentless training, the student has finally reached a pinnacle of achievement in the discipline.

"Before granting you the belt, you must pass one more test," the sensei solemnly tells the young man.

"I'm ready," responds the student, expecting perhaps one more round of sparring.

"You must answer the essential question, 'What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?'"

"Why, the end of my journey," says the student. "A well-deserved reward for all of my hard work."

The master waits for more. Clearly, he is not satisfied. The sensei finally speaks: "You are not ready for the Black Belt. Return in one year."

As the student kneels before his master a year later, he is again asked the question, "What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?"

"A symbol of distinction and the highest achievement in our art," the young man responds.

Again the master waits for more. Still unsatisfied, he says once more: "You are not ready for the Black Belt. Return in one year."

A year later the student kneels before his sensei and hears the question, "What is the true meaning of the Black Belt?"

This time he answers, "The Black Belt represents not the end, but the beginning, the start of a never-ending journey of discipline, work and the pursuit of an ever-higher standard."

"Yes," says the master. "You are now ready to receive the Black Belt and begin your work."
A great festival was to be held in a village and each villager was asked to contribute by pouring a bottle of wine into a giant barrel. One of the villagers had this thought: "If I pour a bottle of water in that giant barrel, no one will notice the difference." But it didn't occur to him that everyone else in the village might have the same thought. When the banquet began and the barrel was tapped, what came out was pure water.

I don't want to interupt the flow of the stories but I wanted
to tell you how much I enjoy the ones you post. Thank you
for all the interesting food for thought. :)
Lykwise, EvilPoet. :D Or would ZenPoet actually be more accurate? Thank you for the stories you share too.
Once upon a time there was a stonecutter. Each day he went up to the mountains to cut stones. And while he worked he sang, for though he was a poor man, he desired no more than he had, so he had not a care in the world.

One day he was called to work on the mansion of a nobleman. When he saw the magnificence of the mansion, he experienced the pain of desire for the first time in his life and he said with a sigh, "If only I were rich! Then I would not have to earn my living in sweat and toil as I do now."

Imagine his astonishment when he heard a voice say, "Your wish has been granted. Henceforth, anything you desire will be given to you." He did not know what to make of the words till he returned to his hut that evening and found in its place a mansion as magnificent as the one he had been working on. So the stonecutter gave up cutting stones and began to enjoy the life of the rich.

One day when the afternoon was hot and humid, he happened to look out his window and saw the King go by with a large retinue of noblemen and slaves. He thought, "How I wish I were a King myself, sitting in the cool of the royal carriage!" His wish was promptly carried out and he found himself reclining in the comfort of the royal carriage. But the carriage turned out to be warmer than he had assumed it to be. He looked out of the carriage window and began to marvel at the power of the sun, whose heat could penetrate even the thick walls of the carriage. "I wish I were the sun," he said to himself. Once again his wish was granted and he found himself sending out waves of light and heat into the universe.

All went well for a while. Then on a rainy day, he attempted to pierce through a thick bank of clouds and could not. So he got himself changed into a cloud and glorified in his power to keep the sun away -- till he turned into rain and found, to his annoyance, a mighty rock that blocked his path so he was obliged to flow around it.

"What?" he cried. "A mere rock more powerful than I? Well, then I wish to be a rock." So there he was standing tall upon a mountainside. He barely had time to rejoice in his fine figure, however, when he heard strange clipping sounds proceeding from his feet. He looked down and, to his dismay, found a tiny human being sitting there engaged in cutting chunks of stone from his feet.

"What?" he shouted. "A puny creature like that more powerful than an imposing rock like me? I want to be a man!" So he found he was once again a stonecutter going up into the mountain to cut stone, earning his living in sweat and toil but with a song in his heart because he was content to be what he was and to live by what he had.