Zen Stories

This chapter is taken from The Silent Power – Selections from The Mountain Path and The Call Divine, Part III On Miscellaneous Topics

The following are well-known specimens of Zen stories, much condensed.

Two monks, one older, one young, came to a muddy ford where a pretty girl was waiting to cross. The elder picked her up and carried her over the water. As they went along, the younger, horrified at the act of his brother monk in touching a woman, kept on commenting upon it, until at last the elder exclaimed: “What! Are you still carrying that girl? I put her down as soon as we crossed the water!”

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When a Master was troubled by a monk who persisted in saying that he could not understand, the Master said: “Come nearer”. The monk came nearer. The Master again said: “Come nearer”, and once more the monk did so. “How well you understand!” remarked the Master!

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A boastful monkey went to heaven and there met the Buddha. He said: “Buddha is a small thing, but I can jump many leagues.” “If you are so clever,” said the Buddha “jump away from the palm of my hand.” The monkey thought that would be easy since the palm seemed to him only inches wide. So he leaped far, far away. He found himself on a large plain bounded by five great pillars. To prove he had been there he made a mark at the base of one of these. After returning to Buddha he boasted of what he had done. “But look at my hand,” said Buddha. There the monkey saw the mark which he had made. It was at the base of one of Buddha’s fingers!

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A Master was once approached by a boy requesting instruction, so the Master gave him the koan: “What is the sound of the clapping of one hand?” The boy went away and happened to hear some Geishas playing, so he went to the Master and imitated that. On being told that was not it, he went away and heard water dripping, again the water flowing, again the locust – altogether ten times. All were wrong. Then the boy could find or think of no more, and lo! he discovered the soundlessness of one hand, the sound of sound!

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A man chased by a tiger jumped over a cliff and clung to a tree growing on the side. Looking down he saw another tiger waiting for him to fall. Worse and worse, he saw two mice, one white and one black, gnawing at the branch to which he was clinging. It chanced that he just then caught sight of some strawberries growing within reach. With one hand he plucked a strawberry and put it in his mouth. “How good it tastes!” he thought.

A Zen monk named Ryoken lived in a hut alone and without any possessions. One day when he was out, a thief entered to steal. He was about to depart when the monk returned. The monk said: “I am sorry you have found nothing; please take my clothes.” After the thief had gone, the monk sat naked looking at the moon. “Alas!”, he mused, “What a pity that I could not give him that beautiful moon!”

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