Zen and Buddhism Stories


  • A Path to Zen Gate
    One day, a monk traveled into the mountain where Gensha Shibi resided to see the Zen master and study Zen with him. The monk said to Gensha: -I am a new comer, please be kind to tell me where I can enter the Zen gate. Gensha asked: -On the path you came here, you passed a brook, didn't you? The monk replied: -Yes, I did. Gensha asked again: -You heard the sound of running water, didn't you? The monk answered: -Yes, I did. Gensha said: -At the place where you heard the sound of running water is the path leading to the Zen gate.
  • Hakuin and the Samurai
    A soldier came to Hakuin and asked "Is there really a paradise and a hell?" "Who are you?" inquired Hakuin. "I am a samurai," the warrior replied. "You, a samurai!" exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar!" The soldier became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued. "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably as dull as your head!" As the soldier drew his sword Hakuin remarked "Here open the gates of hell!" At these words, the samurai, perceiving the discipline of the master, sheathed his sword and bowed. "Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.
  • Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha
    Anyone walking about Chinatowns in America with observe statues of a stout fellow carrying a linen sack. Chinese merchants call him Happy Chinaman or Laughing Buddha. This Hotei lived in the T'ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him in play. He established a kindergarten of the streets. Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: "Give me one penny." And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach others, again he would reply: "Give me one penny." Once he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the significance of Zen?" Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer. "Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?" At once the Happy Chinaman swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.
  • It Is Like to Become a Thief
    Once upon a time, there were a father and a son of a family in a busy city. The father was a very skillful thief in the city. He was getting older and older and worried about his son, who was still rather young and knew nothing about his great art, would not be able to take care of himself and the great art will be missing when he dies. Afterall, the time was coming. One late night, he made his son came along with him to a rich family at the center of the city. They hid themselves in a bush in the backyard of the rich family and were waiting until there were no more people by-passed on the street and all the members of the family were in deep sleep. And both of them started digging and digging and made a narrow and short tunnel passed under the wall and opened up inside the house. Both of them finally were in there. They saw many antique expensive things, and jewery, and diamonds, and gems... sitting on the desks in the treasure-room. The father took some jewery and diamonds, then quitely walked to the tunnel. The son was still picking up some more and did not know his father was gone until he was ready to be gone with him. But there were many loud noises was made by his father outside the wall to wake up the people in the house. He was so upset with his father's actions but he could not do anything stop him. Meanwhile, the homeowner lit up lamps and tried to find thieves. He knew he could not escape right away, and his eyes glanced around in seconds, he saw a big box with a lid on. Immediately, he opened the box and put himself in there and covered the lid gently to avoid making any noises. He kept himself as silent as he could in the box. When one of the people held a lamp coming close to him. He opened the lid, came out, blew out the lamp and ran back to the tunnel. People were running after him in his direction but he was faster than they were and he got into the tunnel quickly. When he got out the tunnel and on the wayside he came to a well which he had seen before he got in the house. He picked up a rather big stepstone near the well and threw it into the well make a sound like a man falling into it. People now got to the spot and thought that the thief should be falling into the very deep well and would be drowsy and dead in a short time and they got back into the house and got more sleep. When the son was back to his house, his father was very glad to see his son back home in safe. The son was still very upset with his father and complained: -Why did you do that to me? You wanted me arrested there? His father quietly said: -Congratulations! My son. From now on you are able to take care of yourself. So, I will not worry about you anymore." The art of teaching and learning in Zen is something similar to this art. No Scriptures, no Bible could help you in a situation like that. You are on your own in any situation you'd be in. At that moment you are wisdom and wisdom is you.
  • It Was Really a Trial
    A Japanese Zen trainee monk named Nantembo who was highly praised by the Zen master Mokurai - an abbot of the Kennin-ji temple in Kyoto - as a good example of sheer force of will in zazen. Nantembo had raging erections whenever visions of beautiful women appeared before him during Zen meditation. Nantembo cursed the erections and suppressed the enticing fantasies by sheer force of will. Nantembo himself told this tale: "Once I was traveling on a ship, and at one port my fellow passengers summoned a bevy of whores to entertain them. They got a girl for me, too, but I paid her off and told her to leave. The quarters were very cramped, and I had no choice but to place my self right in the center of the orgy and do zazen. It was really a trial!" Edited by John Stevens
  • Let's Leave It at That
    One day a girl in geisha house hailed the Japanese Zen master Mokudo by name. He went inside and discovered that the girl was a childhood acquaintance. The crops had failed one year in their village, and she had become a courtesan to support her family. They talked long into the evening about old times, and then she asked him to stay the night. He paid the fee to the house master, and the girl spread out the bedding. She pulled back the cover and said: -Come join me. No one knows. Mokudo repiled: -It is kind of you to invite me, but right now I'd rather do zazen. Your present occupation is to sleep with customers, and my current job is to sit in meditation. Let's leave it at that. Edited by John Stevens
  • My Coffin Simply Is
    Once upon a time, in a certain town there was a coffin maker who opened and was running a store where he sold the coffins he made himself to the customers in the neighborhood. The popuplation in the town increased day-by-day. The more crowded the population, the harder the making living. The harder the making living, the more serious and intensive the struggles and fights for foods, clothes, and medicine. The number of the dead also increased fast. The more the people were dead the more coffins were made and sold, and of course, the more works to do and the coffin maker got to hire other people to help him in selling and delivering coffins to customers. Among the number of employees, there were two young men who were muscle and strong handled the devliver coffins to the families of the dead and they wanted to make some more extra money, therefore, they helped the relatives of the dead to put the corpses into the coffins which they sold to them. Their jobs became more complicated. They both wanted to make it easy for themselves but each of them followed two different ways. One realized that the sizes of the dead varied and requested his boss - the coffin maker - make coffins in different sizes from which he could select the one which fited best the corpse in each case. Therefore, his relationship to the customers was good. Unlike this salesman, the other one requested the coffin maker make one-size coffins for him. He did not care the sizes of the dead varied at all. When the coffin maker heard the request of the man, he was very surprised and asked the man: -How could you make the long and the short fit into the one-size coffins? -It's very simple, sir. If I got some dead body whose legs are longer than my coffin length, I would cut them short to fit it. When I got a dead body whose legs are shorter than it, I would use my hands, one holds and one pulls, making them longer to fit the coffin and my clients should be satisfied. Do you understand what I mean, sir? - I am sorry I do not know what you mean, my young man. Can you explain it to me? - Oh! It's very simple, sir! My coffin simply is, but the dead bodies are complicated. I am trying to make it simple. Do you understand, sir? - I am sorry again, I still don't get it. Although the owner said that to the man but he made one-size coffins for him and the salesman kept selling and delivering the one-size coffins to his customers for a while until no one bought his one-size coffins anymore with the reason: His coffin simply is!
  • Obedience
    The master Bankei's talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras not indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners. His large audience angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to have a debate with Bankei. "Hey, Zen teacher!" he called out. "Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?" "Come up beside me and I will show you," said Bankei. Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher. Bankei smiled. "Come over to my left side." The priest obeyed. "No," said Bankei, "we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here." The priest proudly stepped over to the right. "You see," observed Bankei, "you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen."
  • Shunkai's Life
    The exquisite Shunkai whose other name was Suzu was compelled to marry against her wishes when she was quite young. Later, after this marriage had ended, she attended the university, where she studied philosophy. To see Shunkai was to fall in love with her. Moreover, wherever she went, she herself fell in love with others. Love was with her at the university, and afterwards when philosophy did not satisfy her and she visited the temple to learn about Zen, the Zen students fell in love with her. Shunkai's whole life was saturated with love. At last in Kyoto she became a real student of Zen. Her brothers in the sub-temple of Kennin praised her sincerity. One of them proved to be a congenial spirit and assisted her in the mastery of Zen. The abbot of Kennin, Mokurai, Silent Thunder, was severe. He kept the precepts himself and expected the priests to do so. In modern Japan whatever zeal these priests have lost for Buddhism they seemed to have gained for having wives. Mokurai used to take a broom and chase the women away when he found them in any of his temples, but the more wives he swept out, the more seemed to come back. In this particular temple the wife of the head priest had become jealous of Shunkai's earnestness and beauty. Hearing the students praise her serious Zen made this wife squirm and itch. Finally she spread a rumor about that Shunkai and the young man who was her friend. As a consequence he was expelled and Shunkai was removed from the temple. "I may have made the mistake of love," thought Shunkai, "but the priest's wife shall not remain in the temple either if my friend is to be treated so unjustly." Shunkai the same night with a can of kerosene set fire to the five-hundred-year-old temple and burned it to the ground. In the morning she found herself in the hands of the police. A young lawyer became interested in her and endeavoured to make her sentance lighter. "Do not help me." she told him. "I might decide to do something else which will only imprison me again." At last a sentance of seven years was completed, and Shunkai was released from the prison, where the sixty-year-old warden also had become enamored of her. But now everyone looked upon her as a "jailbird". No one would associate with her. Even the Zen people, who are supposed to believe in enlightenment in this life and with this body, shunned her. Zen, Shunkai found, was one thing and the followers of Zen quite another. Her relatives would have nothing to do with her. She grew sick, poor, and weak. She met a Shinshu priest who taught her the name of the Buddha of Love, and in this Shunkai found some solace and peace of mind. She passed away when she was still exquisitely beautiful and hardly thirty years old. She wrote her own story in a futile endeavour to support herself and some of it she told to a women writer. So it reached the Japanese people. Those who rejected Shunkai, those who slandered and hated her, now read of her life with tears of remorse.
  • So I Am Helping
    P'ang Yun (740-808) was a well known Chinese Zen Layman. He was once selling bamboo baskets. Coming down off the a bridge, he stumbled and fell. When Ling-chao saw this she ran to her father's side and threw herself down. " What are you doing!" cried the Layman. "I saw Papa fall to the ground, so I am helping," replied Ling-chao. "Luckily no one was looking," remarked the Layman. (Ruth Fuller Sasaki's translation)
  • Tetsugen and his Three Sutras
    Tetsugen, a devotee of Zen in Japan, decided to publish the sutras, which at that time were available only in Chinese. The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies, a tremendous undertaking. Tetsugen began by travelling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathizers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. He thanked each donor with equal gratitude. After ten years Tetsugen had enough money to begin his task. It happened that at that time the Uji River overflowed. Famine followed. Tetsugen took the funds he had collected for the books and spent them to save others from starvation. Then he began again his work of collecting. Several years afterward an epidemic spread over the country. Tetsugen again gave away what he had collected. For a third time he started his work, and after twenty years his wish was fulfilled. The printing blocks which produced the first edition of sutras can be seen today in Obaku monastery in Kyoto. The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and that the first two invisible sets surpass even the last.
  • The Elephant and the Five Blind Men
    Once upon a time in a very nice city of ancient India, there were five blind young men were living together and getting along very well. They could share together many things they acquired materially and mentally. They could shared each other what they had learned, known or experienced. For example, they had learned and known how a hose, a broom, a post, a drum, a belly...looks like by listening to the descripton of someone who got good eyes and words, by using their hands touching it, or their noses smelling it, or their tongues tasting it... One day it was very nice out, all the five of them were together taking a walk to the beautiful park at the center of the city. When they were in the park, it happened to be there an elephant with the hamout. After talking to each other, they agreed to come and ask the hamout allow them to take a "look" and "see" what the elephant really looks like. When heard the request, the hamout was very surprised but also interested in seeing how could they take a look and see the elephant. He agreed. The hamout told the first blind man come close to the elephant's trunk and "see" it. After used his both hands touching over the trunk of the elephant, he felt it, thought of it and finally said: -The elephant looks exactly like a big hose, brothers! -No! The elephant looks exactly like two big posts standing side-by-side! The second one protested the first one because he was touching over the two fore-legs of the elephant. -No! You both are wrong! The elephant looks exactly like a huge drum! The third one negated the others because he was touching over the big belly of the elephant. -Not like that at all! Three of you are wrong! The elephant looks exactly like a big broom! The fouth one asserted, after touching the tail of the elephant for a while. -None of you is correct! The elephant looks exactly like two fans. The fifth declared after touching over two ears of the elephant. The argument, at first, was going fine. Then it became a big quarrel, and afterall, a big fight. The hamout witnessed all of what was going on, he was moved and felt pity for the five blind young men, and told them: -Please stop fighting! None of you were correct and none of you are really wrong. Why? Because each of you only touched and knew some part of the elephant and not the whole elephant, therefore, what you touched and "saw" is separate and incomplete. When heard these words of the hamout, the five blind young men understood. They stopped fighting, quarelling, arguing, and palm-to-palm said to the hamout, "Thank you very much! We really appreciate this."
  • When the Buddha Used a Little Stick
    One day when the Buddha was sitting on grasses in a grove, a little deer came about very close to him and showed its friendliness. The Buddha first was> dearly to the little deer a little bit, then he grasped a little stick next to him and suddenly gave the little deer a little hard hit at its butt. The little deer got hit, scared, and running off as fast as it could. The Buddha then said: "Little dear, I just didn't want you to get killed by a hunter."