A Collection of Zen Stories

zen enlightenment

“We gain enlightenment like the moon reflecting in the water. The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken. Although its light is wide and great, the moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide. The whole moon and the whole sky are reflected in a drop of dew in the grass.”
– Dōgen Zenji

Man and His Horse

There is a story in zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”

A Beautiful Goose

A Zen monk saw a beautiful goose fly by and he wanted to share this joy with his elder brother who was walking beside him. But at that moment, the other monk had bent down to remove a pebble from his sandle. By the time he looked up, the goose had already flown by. He asked, “What did you want me to see?” but the younger monk could only remain silent.

Zen 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?”

Zen Dialogue

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protégé. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.
“Where are you going?” asked the one.
“I am going wherever my feet go,” the other responded.
This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. “Tomorrow morning,” the teacher told him, “when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: ‘Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?’ That will fix him.”
The children met again the following morning.
“Where are you going?” asked the first child.
“I am going wherever the wind blows,” answered the other. This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to his teacher.
“Ask him where he is going if there is no wind,” suggested the teacher.
The next day the children met a third time.
“Where are you going?” asked the first child.
“I am going to the market to buy vegetables,” the other replied.

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Zen Story: The Taste of Banzo’s Sword

zen sword fightMatajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him. So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. “You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?” asked Banzo. “You cannot fulfill the requirements.”
“But if I work hard, how many years will it take to become a master?” persisted the youth.
“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo.
“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”
“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented.
“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro. “If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”
“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.
“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”
“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”
“Very well,” declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, “I agree.”

Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship. Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life. But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword. The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly. After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword. He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.

Zen Story: The One-Eyed Argument

zen argumentProvided he makes and wins an argument about Buddhism with those who live there, any wandering monk can remain in a Zen temple. If he is defeated, he has to move on. In a temple in the northern part of Japan two brother monks were dwelling together. The elder one was learned, but the younger one was stupid and had but one eye. A wandering monk came and asked for lodging, properly challenging them to a debate about the sublime teaching. The elder brother, tired that day from much studying, told the younger one to take his place. “Go and request the dialogue in silence,” he cautioned.

So the young monk and the stranger went to the shrine and sat down. Shortly afterwards the traveler rose and went in to the elder brother and said: “Your young brother is a wonderful fellow. He defeated me.”
“Relate the dialogue to me,” said the elder one.
“Well,” explained the traveler, “first I held up one finger, representing Buddha, the enlightened one. So he held up two fingers, signifying Buddha and his teaching. I held up three fingers, representing Buddha, his teaching, and his followers, living the harmonious life. Then he shook his clenched fist in my face, indicating that all three come from one realization. Thus he won and so I have no right to remain here.” With this, the traveler left.

“Where is that fellow?” asked the younger one, running in to his elder brother.
“I understand you won the debate.”
“Won nothing. I’m going to beat him up.”
“Tell me the subject of the debate,” asked the elder one.
“Why, the minute he saw me he held up one finger, insulting me by insinuating that I have only one eye. Since he was a stranger I thought I would be polite to him, so I held up two fingers, congratulating him that he has two eyes. Then the impolite wretch held up three fingers, suggesting that between us we only have three eyes. So I got mad and got ready to punch him, but he ran out and that ended it!”

Sufi Story: The Impermanent Ring

kings ringThere once was a king who was going to put to death many people, but before doing so he offered a challenge. If any of them could come up with something which would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy, he would spare their lives. All night the wise men meditated on the matter. In the morning they brought the king a ring. The king said that he did not see how the ring would serve to make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy. The wise men pointed to the inscription. When the king read it, he was so delighted that he spared them all.

And the inscription? “This too shall pass.

Hindu Story: Tat Tvam Asi

atmanOnce a seeker went to a great master. Bowing reverentially in the traditional manner he said: “O master, I seek enlightenment, please initiate and teach me so that I may attain That!” The master replied in a kindly manner: “Certainly my son, tat tvam asi, you are That, the divine Self lives within you. Meditate on that Self, know that Self, merge in that Self, realise that Self!” The seeker was disappointed. “O master, I know all that already. Why, that very teaching was featured in this month’s Yoga Journal. Please give me the secret teachings, I want the real stuff!” The master said: That is all I know. That is my entire teaching I have no secrets. There is nothing that I have not given you. However, if you are not satisfied, you can go down the road to the next swami’s ashram and see if he has something more suitable for you.”

The seeker approached the other guru and said: “O master, I seek enlightenment, please give me the initiation and your most secret teaching so that I may attain That!” The guru said: “I do not give my teachings so easily. You must earn them. You must do sadhana, spiritual practice. If you are sincere then you can stay here and work for 12 years. Only in this way will you earn my initiation.” The seeker was delighted: “That’s just what I wanted. That is real spiritual life, real sadhana. I’ll begin at once.” The guru assigned him the job of shovelling buffalo dung in the back paddock. The years went by. Each day as he shovelled the dung the seeker dreamt of his future enlightenment. He ticked the passing days and months off his calendar.

Finally 12 years were up; the great day arrived. He approached the guru with hands folded palm to palm. “O my guru, I have served you faithfully for 12 years. I request your teachings and initiation as you have promised. Please bestow your grace upon me.” The guru said: “My son, you have served me well. You truly deserve my teaching. Here it is: “Tat tvam asi. You are That, the divine Self lives within you. Meditate on that Self, know that Self, merge in that Self, realise that Self!” The seeker became enraged. “What! Is that all? The guru up the road gave me that the first time I met him and I didn’t have to shovel buffalo dung for him for 12 years!”
“Well,” said the guru. “The truth hasn’t changed in 12 years.”

Hindu Story: The Ten Pilgrims

riverThe following story – originally told in a Upanishad (collection of philosophical texts which underline the Hindu religion) – is about ten men who went on an arduous pilgrimage to a faraway holy city. At one point on their journey they had to carefully make their way across a roaring river, which was surrounded by jagged rocks. When they finally reached the other side of the river, the leader of the group decided to count everyone to make sure they had all crossed safely, and so he lined each of the pilgrims up and started to count.

When the leader counted the last head, he discovered with horror that only nine men had made it across. He then asked each of the pilgrims to count. Sure enough each one only counted nine. A wise stranger came upon the scene and discreetly asked what had happened to elicit such an outpouring of grief. “We are pilgrims,” said the leader. “There were ten of us when we began our journey, but now one of our brothers has been lost in the river.” The stranger quickly noticed that by his count there were ten pilgrims. He asked: “Sir, would you please count everyone again just to make sure?”
“Yes,” replied the leader who began counting aloud, “one, two, three… eight, and nine! Oh alas, one is gone!”
“But sir,” said the stranger, “you have forgotten to count yourself!” And so, the tenth man was found.

The Scorpion and the Turtle

scorpion and turtle

One lazy afternoon day a turtle was swimming happily along a lake. As the turtle was nearing land he heard a scorpion hail it from the muddy shore. A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked the turtle if he would carry him on his back across the lake. The turtle thought it was the craziest thing he ever heard, “Why would I carry you on my back?” he boomed, ‘You’ll sting me while I’m swimming and I’ll drown.”
“My dear turtle friend,” laughed the scorpion, “if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you and drown as well. Now where is the logic in that?”
The turtle pondered this for a moment, and eventually saw the logic in the scorpion’s statement. “You’re right!” said the turtle with a smile. “Hop on!” So the scorpion climbed aboard and the turtle paddled his big fins in the water. Halfway across the lake the scorpion gave the turtle a big sting, and he started to drown. As they both sank into the water the turtle turned to the scorpion with a tear in his eye. “My dear scorpion friend, why did you sting me? Now we are both going to drown…” the turtle was gasping for air. “Where is the… logic in that?”
“It has nothing to do with logic” the scorpion sadly replied, “it’s just my nature.”

The Last Question

big bang universeThe following short story, written by the famous science fiction author Isaac Asimov, is a gripping tale of Man and Machine’s evolution of consciousness, and their place in the infinite yet impermanent universe. The story was first published in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly, and is to this day considered by many to be his best work. The author himself even thought so, and in 1973 he said of it:

“Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn’t have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers…”

The short story is split into seven story arcs, with the first one beginning in 2061, and each one after progressing further and further into the future. Despite the changes in time, space, and characters, each of the stories share in common humanity’s relationship with a supercomputer called Multivac and its successors – every sub plot revolves around certain characters discussing the life span of the universe and then asking the Multivac computer whether entropy (destruction) of the universe can be reversed, which is a question it has insufficient data to answer until the very end. This is a great read from start to finish – I give it a 5 out of 5; it is WAY ahead of it’s time!

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Osho – Western Psychology vs. Eastern Spirituality

oshoOsho – who was a widely followed Indian guru from the 60s-80s – brings up some very interesting and insightful points about the differences between Western psychology and Eastern spirituality’s approach to changing man. Osho correctly states that Western psychology’s aim is to fortify the individual’s ego so that he may become less neurotic, slightly happier and ultimately function ‘better’ in society. He says that in the East, the goal is instead to dissolve the ego rather than strengthen it.

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Symptoms of Inner Peace

ram dassThis is a slightly edited version of Saskia Davis’ original Symptoms of Inner Peace ©1984. Saskia has been kind enough to allow me to share it with all of you on my site, which I am happy to do. You can see the original in all its original glory at her website, which is http://symptomsofinnerpeace.net!

Be on the lookout for signs of inner peace. The hearts of a great many have been filled with such peace, and it is possible that people everywhere could come down with this strange virus in an epidemic of some sort. This could pose a serious threat to what has, till now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world.

Here are some symptoms to watch out for:

  • A tendency to think and act spontaneously, without the influence of fear due to past experiences and consequences.
  • A strange tendency to not over analyse the past
  • A worrying ability to enjoy the present moment
  • An alarming tendency to not stress about the future.
  • A loss of interest in judging people
  • A loss of interest in judging yourself
  • A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others
  • Loss of inner and outer conflict
  • A loss of the ability to worry (this is a serious symptom)
  • Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation
  • Feelings of connectedness with others and nature
  • Frequent attacks of smiling
  • Frequent attacks of laughing with others
  • An increased capacity for loving others and yourself

WARNING

If you have some of the above symptoms seek a doctor’s advice immediately. If you have most of, or all of the above symptoms then it might be too late for cure. If that is the case, the best advice is to stay indoors and eliminate any contact with other humans, as your inner peace is highly contagious and could infect others. Prolonged exposure to the outside world could result in your inner peace turning into outer peace, if you know someone with some of these symptoms, remain exposed at your own risk.

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This Will Blow Your Mind – Earths Relative Size in Space

The following image will no doubt amaze and or scare you. It might make you ponder our insignificance in space, it might not, but it most probably will. It’s a gif image, so wait for it to load – by the time you’ve read this far it will already start flicking through pictures of planets and stars contained within our solar system, in order from smallest (Earth’s moon) to largest (VY Canis Majoris – 3000 million km in diameter and 4,900 light years away from our planet)

Space

To put this into some sort of perspective:

  • In one second light travels 300,000 km, which is 7 trips around Earth.
  • The closest star to us that we can see in our night sky is Alpha Centuari and is 4.5 light years from Earth.
  • 1 light year is 9.5 trillion kms away.
  • You can fit 1 million planet Earths into our Sun.
  • You can fit 1 billion Suns into VY Canis Majoris!
  • A lot of these stars have planets orbiting them, just like we orbit the Sun (a star).
  • It is estimated that there are as many as 50 billion planets in our galaxy, most of which are as large as Jupiter.
  • There are said to be as many as 200 billion stars in our galaxy alone.
  • Over 2 million galaxies have been counted, but it is estimated there could be as many as 100 million.
  • The visible universe is about 15,000 million light years in size.
  • If our planet is the only one in the entire universe that contains intelligent life, then we are really alone.

To view the image as a single jpg rather than an animated gif, click here.

Here’s something else that might bend your noodle – Look outside your window and take a peek at the stars, yes they don’t seem so small now do they? Since these stars are about 500 light years away (takes 500 years for their light to reach Earth and therefore be visible by our eyes) you are actually looking at space as it was 500 years ago.

Yes, you just saw the past.

Ghost in the Shell: The Philosophy of Technology

Ghost in the Shell is a sci-fi anime masterpiece set in the future where technology has spawned cyborgs, cybernetic enhancements, and super artifical intelligence. If it wasn’t for Ghost in the Shell, The Matrix would never have hit the cinemas. The above clips from the movie showcase three of the films most philosophical moments, so if you have no intention of watching it from start to finish, you can at least absorb some of it’s most profound moments.

Check out my post ‘Are You a Bot?’ for my thoughts on the direction of technology.

Jungian Psychology: Psychological Types

Personality

Did you know that there are people out there who are exactly like you, only you might not have met them yet? And I mean exactly like you. A long time ago, the late-great psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed a personality profiling system in his book ‘Psychological Types‘. This model was converted into a simple psychological test called the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), and has been used as the basis for grouping personality types from its inception, to this very present moment. You’ve been exposed to this personality type system without even knowing it in ‘star signs’, ‘which drug are you’ Facebook quizzes and even in daily conversation. If you’ve ever been called an extravert or an introvert for example, then you can thank Jung for coining those terms.

jung psychological types

The personality test is about 60 questions in length and asks a series of questions designed to cross reference and examine your 4 main personality traits out of 8. These are

  1. Introvert ——- Extravert
  2. INtuitive ——– Sensing
  3. Thinking ——- Feeling
  4. Judging ——- Perceiving

Before you read on, be sure to take the test!

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Steve Jobs Gives a Damn Fine Speech… on Death

When Steve Jobs died the other day Facebook was full of ‘RIP Steve Jobs’ posts, as though people really cared that he had died. Sure you wouldn’t have an iPhone if it wasn’t for him, but it’s not like you knew the guy, and people die, it’s not a huge deal. I wrote a post in response to this that was all in good fun. However; I just saw a video of a speech Steve made to a group of graduating students at Stanford University, and it revealed the humanity in the man I never knew. I still don’t know him, and I still don’t care about or mourn his death, but I still respect him as a person; for following his dreams. Rest in peace to Steve Jobs and every man and woman who has passed before and after him, and rest in peace to anyone who has died in the time I have typed this, you will all be missed by someone, somewhere.

Humans vs Computers – Are You a Bot?

“‘You engage in an exchange of emails or instant messages or Facebook updates. Is the unknown respondent another person, or is it a bot? Is it someone, or is it a computer programming passing as a person? You want to know. Based only on the conversation, can you judge whether the other is human or machine? Is there something in what is said or how it is said that differentiates people from programs?’ (Baldwin, 2009, p. 8-9)

Film director Ridley Scott’s sci fi masterpiece ‘Blade Runner‘, based on Phillip Dick’s novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?‘, asks some pressing questions on what it means to be human, and whether we can really distinguish the difference between man and machine. The protagonist Deckard, uses a process called the Voight-Kampff Empathy Test to decide whether the subject is a ‘replicant’ or not. This is based on what we humans call a ‘turing test’, which was introduced by Alan Turing in 1950 to probe the abilities of machines to ‘imitate’ human responses. If a human is unable to discriminate between a person and a machine, then the computer is said to have passed the test. For example, a man is asked to play a game of chess against both a human and a machine, it is very difficult for him to tell which opponent is which, as the machine has a large database of moves it can make which mirror those of real human players; therefore even if the human beats the machine, the machine wins. So in a nutshell, a turing test is a test a human gives to a computer to decide whether or not it is a human, while a reverse turing test is a test a computer gives to a human to determine whether or not it is a machine.
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The Mythology of Star Wars

In 1987 a groundbreaking conversation took place between scholar Joseph Campbell and journalist Bill Moyers on the topic of mythology, this conversation was recorded at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch and was turned into a famous 5 part series called ‘The Power of Myth’. In this series, Joseph Campbell delved deep into the world of mythology, and even discussed the archetypal figures that Lucas had used in the Star Wars films. Joseph Campbell left this earth shortly after in 1988, but Bill Moyers returned to the Skywalker ranch in 2000 to further discuss with George Lucas, the mythological grounding which his movies were based on. The result is another fascinating 5 part conversation series on mythology, watch this if you are a fan of Joseph Campbell or Star Wars, or film analysis in general, and you will surely find something of worth!
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Joseph Campbell’s ‘Monomyth’

Joseph Campbell was an extraordinary man with an extensive knowledge on world mythology, symbolism and psychology; he borrowed elements from Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, and his concept of archetypes, and used them both to help bridge a gap between East and West and all of the world religions and rituals. Joseph Campbell is most famous for his formulation of the fascinating and widely studied ‘monomyth’ theory, which states that all myths and stories – whether they be from religious texts or fiction novels – follow the same narrative structure, which he called the ‘the hero’s journey’. This structure was outlined step by step in Campbell’s best selling book, ‘The Hero With a Thousand Faces’, and is referred to as the ‘monomyth’, or one-myth, which is an archetypal journey or transformation that is repeated in every story told by man, in an endless circular pattern. The reason this theory is so popular, is that it touches on that intuitive element found in every man, that nothing is really separate, and that man and the universe is really interconnected in every way.

Zelda

1). The Call to Adventure
2). Crossing of the Threshold (Entering the Unknown)
3). Trials and Tribulations of the Journey
4). Attainment of Enlightenment
5). Return of the Hero

Take a good look at any myth, story, novel or movie, and chances are you can see all of the same elements, simply wearing a different mask. The short video below shows one such example of the ‘monomyth’, found in the great sci fi masterpiece: ‘The Matrix’.

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Hindu Mythology: Hanuman

Hinduism

Hanuman from the Hindu story Ramayana

Hanuman is the monkey servant who opens up his chest to reveal two little dolls, a boy doll with blue skin and a girl doll with fair skin. The boy doll is the avatar/incarnation of the Hindu God Vishnu, called Rama (or Ram), who came to earth thousands of years ago to rescue the planet from the demon king Ravana. The girl doll was Sita, Rama’s wife. When Ravana kidnapped Sita, the pure hearted Prince Rama rushed to rescue her, but he couldn’t do it alone.
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