101 Zen Stories


Tanzan wrote sixty postal cards on the last day
of his life, and asked an attendant to mail them.
Then he passed away.

The cards read:

I am departing from this world.
This is my last announcement.

July 27, 1892

Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones

Grey Wolf attended meetings sporadically, and when she came she usually sat silent during the question period. However, she came to hear Brown Bear and spoke up, saying, "We dedicate our sutras to the enlightenment of bushes and grasses. This doesn't seem so likely somehow." Brown Bear chuckled and said, "They are very patient."

Source: Zen Master Raven
There was an ancient mysterious wall which stood at the edge of a village, and whenever anyone climbed the wall to look onto the other side, instead of coming back he or she smiled and would jump to the other side, never to return. The inhabitants of the village became curious as to what could draw these people to the other side of the wall. After all, their village had all the necessities of living a comfortable life.

They made an arrangement to where they would tie a person's feet, so that when he or she looked over and wished to jump, they could be pulled back.

The next time someone tried to climb the wall to see what was on the other side, they chained her feet so that she could not go over. She looked on the other side and was delighted at what she saw, and smiled. Those standing below grew curious to question her and pulled her back, but to their great disappointment she had lost the power of speech.

"Those who have Seen cannot say. That which has been Seen cannot be painted, cannot be reduced to words. But still each one has to give a try -- and the world goes on becoming more and more beautiful because of these efforts." - Osho
Joshu Examines A Monk In Meditation

Joshu went to a place where a monk had retired to meditate and asked him: "What is, is what?"

The monk raised his fist.

Joshu replied: "Ships cannot remain where the water is too shallow." And he left.

A few days later Joshu went again to visit the monk and asked the same question.

The monk answered the same way.

Joshu said: "Well given, well taken, well killed, well saved." And he bowed to the monk.

Mumon's comment: The raised fist was the same both times. Why is it Joshu did not admit the first and approved the second one? Where is the fault? Whoever answers this knows that Joshu's tongue has no bone so he can use it freely. Yet perhaps Joshu is wrong. Or, through that monk, he may have discovered his mistake. If anyone thinks that the one's insight exceeds the other's, he has no eyes.

The light of the eyes is as a comet,
And Zen's activity is as lightening.
The sword that kills the man
Is the sword that saves the man.

Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
A new start

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), 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 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?"

Start with no expectations and the path becomes clear.

Dave the Druid
Re: A new start

Originally posted by Dave the Druid
"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?"
See, I like this part, it explains the point or moral of the koan to me. (Or do they all have that paragraph, just sometimes I don't see it? :confused: )
I think there might be some confusion over the terms story and koan. For instance, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is really four books in one: 101 Zen Stories, The Gateless Gate, 10 Bulls, and Centering.

101 Zen Stories is collection of stories that recount actual experiences of Chinese and Zen teachers, The Gateless Gate is a collection of problems called koan that Zen teachers use in guiding their students toward release, 10 Bulls is a commentary upon the stages of awareness leading to enlightenment, and Centering is a transcription of ancient Sanskrit manuscripts. The story that Dave the Druid posted (A Cup Of Tea) is from 101 Zen Stories. The one I posted (Joshu Examines A Monk In Meditation) is from The Gateless Gate.

The above might not help make the stories or koans any easier to understand but I thought it important to note that there was a difference between the two. :)

This is a storey not a koan; and not all have the explanation part. Perhaps storeys with an illustrative end would be a greater help?
Dave the Druid
I agree, I love that part of the site. I also still
love the comics section of the paper, so there
ya go. ;)
We are conditioned to regulate our behavior based on imagining how others will react in response to our choices.

The student approached the master and queried, "Master? When I was young, I desired for my family and loved ones to be proud of me. Were you ever the same way?"

"Yes," the master answered.

"Why did you desire this?" the student asked.

"So that they would feel they had more reason to love and accept me," said the master. "And the reason I desired this was so that I in turn would feel I had sufficient reason to love and accept myself. That was what was at the root of it. But then one day, I woke up and realized, 'What if I bypass all of that and learn to unconditionally love and accept myself, without requiring anyone else's love, acceptance or approval in order to feel good about myself? Then my happiness will no longer be dependent on outer circumstances, but will be as constant as my own heartbeat resounding strongly within my chest.' Thus began my quest for Self-realization."

"And you never desired them to be proud of you after that?" asked the student.

"My ego did, but I no longer completely identified myself with my ego as I had. And I no longer cared what others thought in the same way. I respected it, and honored it, but no longer gave it so much weight or paid so much attention to it," the master replied, smiling. "And never had I felt so free, as when I finally released myself in this way..."
Lotus in the Mud

Torio Tokuan said, "Do not consider yourself elevated in comparision to ordinary people. Those who are commonplace just rise and fall on the road of fame and profit, without practicing the Way or following the Way.

"They are only to be pitied, not despised or resented. Do not give rise to judgemental thoughts by comparing yourself to them: do not give rise to ideas of higher and lower.

"This is the attitude needed to enter the Way of the sages and saints, buddhas and bodhisattvas. Therefore we place ourselves in the state of ordinary people, assimilating to the ordinary, while our will is on the Way, and we investigate its wonders."

Source: Zen Antics

Zen Master Tenkei used to admonish his followers, "You should be genuine in all things. Nothing that is genuine in the world is not genuine in Buddhism, and nothing that is not genuine in Buddhism is genuine in the world."

He would also say, "See with your eyes, hear with your ears. Nothing in the world is hidden; what would you have me say?"

Source: Zen Antics
While walking beside a dancing stream in the forest, Notere Bisera came upon a monk who had silently sat za-zen upon a rock for 25 years. As he stood there looking at him, a little boy ran up, pulled his knickers down and began peeing into the stream while grinning at him. Notere was so surprised that he farted, causing the boy to laugh uncontrollably and fall into the stream. In that moment Notere was enlightened.
"Meditation is a state of mind which looks at
everything with complete attention, totally,
not just parts." -J Krishnamurti, Meditations


The Zen Master Tenkei considered one of the eight greatest Buddhist adepts of his time. Master of all schools, Tenkei helped revive Zen in the early 1700s through his many enlightened disciples and his many written works in classical and contemporary modes. Once Tenkei quoted a famous poem of National Teacher Daito and offered one of his own:

When one sits in meditation,
one sees the people
coming and going
just as they are.

Source: Zen Antics
Re: Reality

Originally posted by EvilPoet
Zen Master Tenkei used to admonish his followers, "You should be genuine in all things. Nothing that is genuine in the world is not genuine in Buddhism, and nothing that is not genuine in Buddhism is genuine in the world."

He would also say, "See with your eyes, hear with your ears. Nothing in the world is hidden; what would you have me say?"

Source: Zen Antics
Isn't this like, the definiaitn of Buddhism? Trying to find the true nature of the World?
Many centuries ago, there was an old Native American who was called Dancing Bear, who belonged to a tribe now known as the Sioux. He had lived a life with much enjoyment of the little things, and as the years passed he began to feel pulled to go to a tall mountain that his tribe would pass by in their travels once a year. He found himself wondering what it would be like to climb to the top of that snow-capped mountain, and to be so very close to the golden sun, the vast sky and the moon.

And so the next time his tribe traveled by the mountain, he told his family that he was going on a vision quest. When asked if they would be physically seeing him again, he said probably not -- that he felt ready to enter the spirit world, and they were accepting and respectful of it.

And so he left on a cloudless morning when the sun had just peeked over the horizon, enjoying the solitude and the beauty of nature all around him. Sometimes he chanted softly, or said a prayer, or stopped to look at something.

That evening he came to the base of the mountain where he found a cluster of tall oak trees, and he sat below one as the stars shimmered overhead... and after enjoying the sights and sounds and smells of nighttime for a while, he quickly went to sleep.

He dreamed of the sun and the moon becoming one.

The next morning as the sun bathed him he started the arduous journey uphill, feeling the air get cooler and cooler, and was glad that he had wore his furs. Then he reached where the snow began, and the wind became extremely chilly. Though he began feeling very tired he was determined to reach the top, and so on and on he went.

Finally he walked up a knee-deep snow-drift that was near the crest, when he stumbled, and rolled down the steep slope for quite some distance. When he finally reached the bottom where the slope evened off his body ached, he had snow down his furs, and could no longer feel his fingers or feet due to the numbing cold.

As he sat there catching his breath he watched two large wolves emerge from a nearby group of trees and cautiously approach him. His heart leaped and his instincts screamed at him to run, but instead he laughed and said, "So are you two the ones who are to deliver me to the spirit world? I am ready." And as he smiled and laughed the wolves sensed his lack of fear, and the friendly sound in his voice, and though they were very hungry and didn't completely understand why, they sensed that he was a friend. And so they walked close to him sniffing and then rubbed up against him, letting him pet their fur that had never before been petted by human hands. And again he laughed, as the sun overhead grew brighter and brighter until it was all-consuming.
And at that he was enlightened

Here is one of the storeys that ends in "And at that he was enlightened."
There was the one-finger Zen of Chu-chih. One time an outsider asked Chu-chih's attendant what kind of Zen his Master preached. The boy held up just one finger, as did his masterwhen he was asked a question. On hearing of this, Chu-chih cut off the boy's finger with a knife. The boy began to run from the room, screaming with pain. Chu-chih called to him. The boy turned around. Chu-chih held up one finger. At that the boy was enlightened.

I know there are others but this is the first I found.
Dave the Druid