Here I have collected 7 of my favorite enlightening zen stories:
A Cup of Tea
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?”
Is That So?
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents very angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.
A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”
The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of 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,” he told the prowler, “and you shoud not return emptyhanded. Please take my clothes as a gift.”
The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow, ” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t do near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
Subhuti was Buddha’s disciple. He was able to understand the potency of emptiness, the viewpoint that nothing exists except in its relationship of subjectivity and objectivity.
One day Subhuti, in a mood of sublime emptiness, was sitting under a tree. Flowers began to fall about him.
“We are praising you for your discourse on emptiness,” the gods whispered to him.
“But I have not spoken of emptiness,” said Subhuti.
“You have not spoken of emptiness, we have not heard emptiness,” responded the gods. “This is true emptiness.” And blossoms showered upon Subhuto as rain.
The Thief Who Became a Disciple
One evening as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding either money or his life.
Shichiri told him: “Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer.” Then he resumed his recitation.
A little while afterwards he stopped and called: “Don’t take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow.”
The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave. “Thank a person when you receive a gift,” Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off.
A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, among others, the offence against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said: “This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him money and he thanked me for it.”
After he had finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.
No Work, No Food
Hyakujo, the Chinese Zen master, used to labor with his pupils even at the age of eighty, trimming the gardens, cleaning the grounds, and pruning the trees.
The pupils felt sorry to see the old teacher working so hard, but they knew he would not listen to their advice to stop, so they hid away his tools.
That day the master did not eat. The next day he did not eat, nor the next. “He may be angry because we have hidden his tools,” the pupils surmised. “We had better put them back.”
The day they did, the teacher worked and ate the same as before. In the evening he instructed them: “No work, no food.”
7 Enlightening Zen Stories4.55SEEKER Friday, 26 February 2016 Here I have collected 7 of my favorite enlightening zen stories: A Cup of Tea Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912...