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Collection of Zen Stories (Part 1)

Zen Story 1

Nen / Mindfulness / Now Mind Original calligraphy by Zen monk and artist Peter Cutler. The Japanese kanji for Nen, in English mindfulness. The top symbol means "now" or "present moment". The bottom symbol means "mind", "heart" or "spirit". You could also translate this as "now mind", a mind that dwells in the present moment.

Our practice of Zen is to dwell solidly in the present moment, to not be lost in the past or future. This calligraphy is a wonderful reminder and direction for our practice and our life. The top symbol is like a roof that protects our life from distractions and a mountain that offers solidity to our practice. It points to a mind that is free, fluid and fully available to each moment.

May the transmission of this calligraphy help your life in wonderful ways.

The small red chop or seal at the bottom right is Chinese for "True Virtue". It is the Dharma name given to Peter by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.

You can find prints of this calligraphy and others at the online Zen Brush gallery



Zen Story 2



Zen Story 3

You're worried about death? Don't worry - you'll die for sure.

- Kodo Sawaki


Zen Story 4



Zen Story 5

THE WISDOM of Ajahn Chah

"A madman and an arahant both smile, but the arahant knows why ...
while the madman doesn't."

- Ajahn Chah


Zen Story 6



Zen Story 7

-- The Meaning --

A monk asked, "Why did Bodhidharma come from the west?"
Zen Master Fojian said, "If you taste vinegar then you know sour. If you taste salt then you know saltiness."


Ultimately it always boils down to this : taste yourself!

When you go to a Zen Master never ask questions, the answers of which, you have to believe!

Suppose you ask: whether God exists or not? No matter what answer he gives, you will either believe or disbelieve. Disbelief is also a kind of belief. A theist believes that God exists. An atheist believes that God doesn't exist. But they are both believers.

Zen is only for seekers. Zen is only for those who want to find the truth themselves. Even if a Buddha comes don't ask such questions. Don't rely upon others to know the truth. Rather ask how can you realize the truth yourself. This is something which you can test and verify!

A Zen master can never make you crippled. Down the ages all the religions have crippled the humanity by giving them stuffs to believe. Those stuffs are called Religious Scriptures! A religious scripture is the most filthy thing that has happened to humanity!!

No! Find the truth yourself. Don't be a theist and don't be an atheist too! Suspend all the judgements until you realize the truth yourself.



Zen Story 8

-- The Meaning --

Someone asked, "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West?"

The Zen Patriarch Ma-Tsu hit him, and said, "If I don't hit you, people everywhere will laugh at me."


Since the time he went to China, this fellow has created lot of pain for all the Zen people throughout the history. Yet we have forgiven him!



Zen Story 9



Zen Story 10



Zen Story 11



Zen Story 12

"Even if a Buddha or Bodhisattva should suddenly appear before you, there’s no need for reverence. This mind of ours is empty and contains no such form. Why worship illusions born of the mind?

Your mind is basically empty. If you envision a Buddha, a dharma, or a Bodhisattva and conceive respect for them, you relegate yourself to the realm of mortals. If you seek direct understanding, don’t hold on to any appearance whatsoever, and you’ll succeed."

~ Bodhidharma ~


All the criminal religions give people some kind of theoretical understanding about God and Soul. Master Dharma is saying that all such teachings are crap. All theoretical understandings merely strengthen the mind. The truth is realized when there is no mind, just emptiness is there!

A person who has obsession towards a concept of God or Soul or Ultimate Truth and cannot abandon the theories given in his respective scripture can never progress on the path of Zen!

Be very clear about this. You have to choose one - either Zen or your faith system; you cannot choose both. The choice is yours!



Zen Story 13

Bodhidharma and The Parrot

It is said, as Bodhidharma was walking along a street, a parrot called out to him. The parrot could talk. It said:

Mind Come from the West,
Mind Come from the West,
Please teach me the way
To escape from this cage.

Bodhidharma thought, ‘I came here to save people and it’s not working out; at least I can save this parrot.’ And so he taught the parrot:

To escape from the cage,
Stick both legs straight out.
Close both eyes tight.
That’s the way to escape your cage.

The parrot heard and understood. It pretended to be dead. It lay on the bottom of its cage with its legs stuck out still and its eyes closed tight, not moving, not even breathing. The owner found the parrot this way and took it out to have a look. He held the bird in his hand, peering at it from the left and right until he was convinced it was indeed dead. The only thing about it was, it was still warm. But it wasn’t breathing. And so the owner opened his hand and in that instant the parrot was fully revived. It flew away and escaped its cage.


The message of the story is very important. A meditator starts pretending to be dead in front of the world. He doesn't runs after prestige, wealth, job promotion and other things. He just enjoys his life.


Zen Story 14

"Unless you see your nature,
all this talk about cause & effect is nonsense.
Buddhas don't practice nonsense!"

~ Bodhidharma ~


Image of Bodhidharma. Bodhidharma was a monk who lived during the 5th/6th century CE. He is traditionally credited as the transmitter of Ch'an (Sanskrit: Dhyana, Japanese: Zen) to China, and regarded as its first Chinese patriarch.


Zen Story 15



Zen Story 16

Teachers open the door

but you must enter by yourself.

Chinese Proverb



Zen Story 17

- The Meaning --

A monastic asked Zhaozhou, “What is the meaning of the Ancestor’s [Bodhidharma’s] coming from India?”
Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the garden.”
The monastic said, “Master, please don’t teach using an object.”
Zhaozhou said, “I am not showing an object to you.”
The monastic said, “What is the meaning of the Ancestor’s coming from India?”
Zhaozhou said, “The cypress tree in the garden.”

~ Case 119 of Dogen's 300 Koans ~



Zen Story 18

When the mind is always moving, you travel
from one hell to the next HELL.

~ Bodhidharma ~


People don't want to meditate because they have made their mind a madhouse. And they still want to realize the peace experienced by Buddha by just doing some worship or by reading good quotes like "Be in the moment""Always be happy" bla bla bla. Zen says: This is not going to happen! You have to meditate!!



Zen Story 19

-- The Meaning --

Once a monastic asked Zen Master Qingyuan, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from India?”
Qingyuan said, “It’s just like this!”


There are some very deep aspects related to this question. In past some of the aspects have been discussed, but there are some more dimensions. I will try to pull out some time and explain you why the Masters don't give an exact reply to this question. Very soon, we will spend few more days discussing this question only. Stay tuned.



Zen Story 20

-- Why Did Bodhidharma Come to the East? --

A monk asked, "Why Did Bodhidharma come to the East?"
Zen Master Xuefeng said, “The sky is blue, the sun is shining, why are you sleep-talking?”



Zen Story 21

-- The First Word of Bodhidharma --

PEN-HSI ASKED the Layman: "What was the first word Bodhidharma spoke when he came from the West?"

"Who remembers!" said the Layman.... See more



Zen Story 22



Zen Story 23



Zen Story 24

Nanyue’s “It’s Not Like Something”

Zen master Huairang of Nanyue [Dahui] went to study with the Sixth Ancestor, Dajian Huineng [Caoxi]. The Sixth Ancestor said, “Where are you from?”
Nanyue said, “I came from National Teacher Huian of Songshan.”
The Sixth Ancestor said, “What is it that has come like this?”
Nanyue could not answer. He attended on the master for eight years and worked on the question. One day he said to the Sixth Ancestor, “Now I understand it. When I first came to study with you, you asked me, ‘What is it that has come like this?’”
The Sixth Ancestor said, “How do you understand it?”
Nanyue said, “To say it’s like something misses it.”
The Sixth Ancestor said, “Does it depend upon practice and enlightenment?”
Nanyue said, “It’s not that there is no practice and enlightenment. It’s just that they cannot be defiled.”
The Sixth Ancestor said, “Just this nondefilement is what Buddhas have maintained and transmitted. You are like this. I am like this. Ancestors in India were like this.”

~ Case 101 of Dogen's 300 Koans ~


Look at Nanyue, who stayed with the Master for 8 years. And also look at yourself. You don't want to spend a single moment in meditation. You just directly want to google out what a person's true nature is.
When it comes to food, you don't say that I will eat food chewed by others. But when it comes to self-realization, you want someone else to tell you what the true nature is! Is there any end to your lethargy? When you are hungry, you don't say that you will google about the different kind of foods. Then you seek real food. But when it comes to truth, you don't try to experience the truth yourself. You just google about the truth! There is no end to your self-deception.
No! Work hard on meditation. Travel to different monasteries and meditation centres to learn meditation. That travelling shows that you are ready to stake something to know the truth. Googling about the truth is not going to help! Zen is only for those who want to stake their lives to find the truth on their own. Anything less than that is not acceptable at all.



Zen Story 25

"All know the Way, but few actually walk it."

~ Bodhidharma ~


Meditation is not about knowing a lot of theories about meditation. Meditation is about really practicing it. Practice hard. Don't just collect bunch of words!!



Zen Story 26

Nobody Told Me Anything

A monastic asked Mazu, “Aside from the four propositions and a hundred negations, please tell me the meaning of the Ancestor’s [Bodhidharma’s] coming from India.”
Mazu said, “I am tired today. I cannot answer your question. Go and ask Citang Zhizang.”
The monastic asked the same question of Citang.
Citang said, “Why don’t you ask the master?”
The monastic said, “The master has sent me to you.”
Citang said, “I have a headache today, I cannot answer your question. Go and ask Senior Hai [Baizhang Huaihai].”
The monastic asked the same question of Hai.
Hai said, “Having gotten to this point, I don’t understand it.”
The monastic went back to Mazu and complained, "Nobody told me anything. Nobody gave me any answers."
But the master said to him reprovingly, "You really are a stupid fool. Everybody has been giving you the answer."
Because of this, the disciple reached enlightenment.



Zen Story 27

Dialogues of the Buddha

Once the Radha came to the exalted one . Having done so he saluted the exalted one and sat down on one side. So seated the venerable Radha this addressed the Exalted one: ' Pray, Lord, what for is Nibbana."

" Nibbana means release from passion," replied the Lord.
"But Nibbana, Lord, - what is aim of it?"
" Rooted in Nibbana, Radha, the righteous life lived. Nibbana is its goal. Nibbana is its end.



Zen Story 28

Dear Zen Friends,

In past we read a lot of cases about the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West. Old students here might be knowing about the depth of those cases. But perhaps, some new students thought that they were merely jokes. Of course, there is a humor there. But there is much to it.
The question, “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?” has nothing to do with Bodhidharma. It means, “What is the ultimate truth? What is the meaning of life? What is the goal of life?” It is the biggest question that can be asked in words.
Why then Zen masters don’t give any clear-cut reply to this question. Why are they not coherent? In next few days, we will try to learn the secret behind this mystery.
Suppose, I tell you the ultimate goal of life is X. A stupid or gullible person can readily accept my answer. But if you are even little bit intelligent, you will ask me for proof. You will ask me to prove that X is the goal of life.
There are two ways of proving anything:
i. Deductive Reasoning
To derive conclusion from already established premises. For example: the scripture says that the world was created by God. You are a part of this world. So, on the basis of established scripture, I can conclude that you were created by God.
ii. Inductive Reasoning
To take the premises as evidence which support to derive the conclusion. For example: if you saw one black crow and then you saw thousands of black crows, then you conclude that all crows are black.
In next few days, we will see what the problems are associated with both approach. Please note that these materials are going to be VERY DIFFICULT because these are taught to advanced students of Philosophy. So, CHALLENGE YOURSELF to understand them. Once you find that both approaches are problematic, then this will give you some clarity and depth about why Zen Masters don’t give a clear answer to this question: “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the west?”
Let’s start with the problems with Deductive Reasoning. Are you ready????



Zen Story 29

The Meaning

Someone asked: “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West?”
Zen Master Ling-shu Jiu-min remained silent.


Problems with Deductive Reasoning: Part 1 Let's start with Deductive Reasoning first.
In deductive reasoning we try to establish a conclusion on the basis of some already established facts. For example:
i. All men are mortal. (Established fact) ii. Bodhidharma is a man.
On the basis of first statement which is an established fact, we can conclude:
iii. Bodhidharma is mortal.
The problem with this approach is that there are very few established facts. Religions say that their respective scripture is the book of established facts. The religions ask people to believe that their scripture is the book of God and the scriptures talk about God, thus one should believe in God. But this argument has many loopholes:
i. One should believe in scriptures because it is the book of God and one should believe in God because the scriptures say so. It is kind of circular argument!
ii. Which book do you consider as scripture? A Christian will consider Bible as the scripture. But for a Mohemmadan it is an ordinary book. The same is true for all so-called scriptures.
Thus, if someone asks me what is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West and if I say, “The ultimate truth is God because scriptures says so”, then only stupid people can get satisfied with such deductive reasoning. Any intelligent person cannot buy such crap.
This is why the Zen Master remained silent!
This is one problem with deductive reasoning. Let’s see few more.



Zen Story 30



Zen Story 31



Zen Story 32




Zen Story 33



Zen Story 34



Zen Story 35



Zen Story 36



Zen Story 37



Zen Story 38



Zen Story 39



Zen Story 40



Zen Story 41

Purnima Goel

Meditation is nothing to terms with your inner emptiness: recognizing it, not escaping; living through it, not escaping; being through it, not escaping. Then suddenly the emptiness becomes the fullness of life. When you don't escape from it, it is the most beautiful thing, the purest, because only emptiness can be pure. If something is there, dirt has entered; if something is there, then death has entered; if something is there, then limitation has entered. If something is there, then godliness cannot be there. Godliness means the great abyss, the ultimate abyss. It is there but you are never trained to look into it.
The mustard seed.



Zen Story 42


"We may fear that coming to terms with being ordinary will mean a life of resignation, of giving up once and for all our hopes and dreams and ambitions. And yet when all those hopes and dreams are driven by fear or self-hate and a desperate need to be something we are not, they will only bring suffering, not joy, to our lives."



Zen Story 43


Dogen said, "A flower falls, even though we love it; and a weed grows, even though we do not love it." Even though it is so, this is our life.

In this way our life should be understood. Then there is no problem.



Zen Story 44

The Buddha said, "Once a man came unto me and denounced me on account of my observing the Way and practicing great loving-kindness. But I kept silent and did not answer him. The denunciation ceased. Then I asked him. 'If you bring a present to your neighbour and he accepts it not; does the present come back to you?' He replied, 'It will.' I said, 'You denounce me now, but as I accept it not, you must take the wrong deed back on your own person. It is like echo succeeding sound, it is like shadow following object; you never escape the effect of your own evil deeds. Be therefore mindful, and cease from doing evil."

~ The Sutra of 42 Chapters ~



Zen Story 45

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” – Buddha

Recently, a reader of my blog asked me this question.

- Sadness, depression, anger, and anxiety are parts of human life. It is normal to have these thoughts and feelings, right?

My answer: Not exactly. You can certainly accept these emotions as they are but eventually, you will have to transcend these negative emotions by intensely practicing consciousness, psychology and mindfulness work (if you want to attain lasting fulfillment and happiness).

That is why practicing meditation is so valuable. When mastered, you'll be able to do things which seem completely mind-blowing to a non-meditator.



Zen Story 46

-- The Tao --

A monk asked Wei-Kuan: "Where is Tao?"
Wei-Kuan answered: "Right in front of us."
"Why don't I see it?" asked the monk.
"Because of your egotism."
"But if I cannot see it because of my egotism, can you see it?"
"As long as there is 'I and thou,' said the master, "this complicates everything and there is no seeing Tao."
"Then when there is neither 'I nor thou,' is it seen?"
The master replied: "When there is neither 'I' nor 'thou,' who is here to see it?"



Zen Story 47

"Those who seek enlightenment regard their bodies as the furnace, the Dharma as the fire, wisdom as the craftsmanship, and the Six Paramitas as the mold. They smelt and refine the true buddha-nature within themselves and pour it into the mold formed by the rules of discipline. Acting in perfect accordance with the Buddha’s teaching, they naturally create a perfect likeness. "



Zen Story 48

"If you light a lamp for somebody,
it will also brighten your path.''

~The Buddha~



Zen Story 49

“The secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts,
in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate,
to reveal itself.”

Thich Nhat Hanh,

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body: Walking Toward Enlightenment



Zen Part 1 | Zen Part 2 | Zen Part 3 | Zen Part 4 | Zen Part 5 |
Zen Part 6 | Zen Part 7 | Zen Part 8 | Zen Part 9 | Zen Part 10 |

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