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A MASTER who lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk,
"What is the Way?"

"What a fine mountain this is," the master said in reply.

"I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way."

"So long as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot
reach the Way," replied the master.

* * *

THE MASTER Kosen drew the words "The First Principle" which are
carved over the gate of the Oaku Temple in Kyoto. He drew them
with his brush on a sheet of paper later they were carved in wood.

A pupil of the master had mixed the ink for him, and stood by,
watching the master's calligraphy. This pupil said, "Not so good!"
Kosen tried again. The pupil said: "That's worse than the first
one!" and Kosen tried again.

After the sixty-fourth try, the ink was running low, and the pupil
went out to mix some more. Left alone, undistracted by any
critical eye watching him, Kosen made one more quick drawing with
the last of the ink. When the pupil returned, he took a good look
at this latest effort.

"A masterpiece!" he said.

* * *

JOSHU asked a monk who appeared for the first time in the hall,
"Have I ever seen you here before?" The monk answered, "No sir,
you have not."

"Then have a cup of tea," said Joshu.

He turned to another monk. "Have I ever seen you here before?" he
said. "Yes sir, of course you have," said the second monk.

"Then have a cup of tea," said Joshu.

Later, the managing monk of the monastery asked Joshu, "How is it
that you make the same offer of tea whatever the reply to your

At this Joshu shouted, "Manager, are you still here?"

"Of course, master!" the manager answered. "Then have a cup of
tea," said Joshu.

* * *

THE STUDENT Doken was told to go on a long journey to another
monastery. He was much upset, because he felt that this trip would
interrupt his studies for many months. So he said to his friend,
the advanced student Sogen:

"Please ask permission to come with me on the trip. There are so
many things I do not know; but if you come along we can discuss
them - in this way I can learn as we travel."

"All right," said Sogen. "But let me ask you a question: If you
are hungry, what satisfaction to you if I eat rice? If your feet
are lame, what comfort to you if I go on merrily? If your bladder
is full, what relief to you if I piss?"

* * *

THE STUDENT Tokusan used to come to the master Ryutan in the
evenings to talk and to listen. One night it was very late before
he was finished asking questions.

"Why don't you go to bed?" asked Ryutan.

Tokusan bowed, and lifted the screen to go out. "The hall is very
dark," he said.

"Here, take this candle," said Ryutan, lighting one for the

Tokusan reached out his hand, and took the candle.

Ryutan leaned forward, and blew it out.

* * *

SHUZAN held up his staff and waved it before his monks.

"If you call this a staff," he said, "you deny its eternal life.
If you do not call this a staff, you deny its present fact. Tell
me just what do you propose to call it?"

* * *

SEKISO said: "A man sits on top of a hundred-foot pole. How can he
go farther up?"

A master answered: "He should reach for enlightenment. Then he can
stand up into all four corners of the sky at once.

* * *

SEKKYO said to one of his monks, "Can you get hold of Emptiness?"

"I'll try" said the monk, and he cupped his hands in the air.

"That's not very good," said Sekkyo. "You haven't got anything in

"Well, master," said the monk, "please show me a better way."

Thereupon Sekkyo seized the monk's nose and gave it a great yank.

"Ouch!" yelled the monk. "You hurt me!"

"That's the way to get hold of Emptiness!" said Sekkyo.

* * *

BODHIDHARMA left his robe and bowl to his chosen successor; and
each patriarch thereafter handed it down to the monk that, in his
wisdom, he had chosen as the next successor. Gunin was the fifth
such Zen patriarch. One day he announced that his successor would
be he who wrote the best verse expressing the truth of their sect.
The learned chief monk of Gunin's monastery thereupon took brush
and ink, and wrote in elegant characters:

The body is a Bodhi-tree
The soul a shining mirror:
Polish it with study
Or dust will dull the image.

No other monk dared compete with the chief monk. But at twilight
Yeno, a lowly disciple who had been working in the kitchen, passed
through the hall where the poem was hanging. Having read it, he
picked up a brush that was lying nearby, and below the other poem
he wrote in his crude hand:

Bodhi is not a tree;
There is no shining mirror.
Since All begins with Nothing
Where can dust collect?

Later that night Gunin, the fifth patriarch, called Yeno to his
room. "I have read your poem," said he, "and have chosen you as my
successor. Here: take my robe and my bowl. But our chief monk and
the others will be jealous of you and may do you harm. Therefore I
want you to leave the monastery tohight, while the others are

In the morning the chief monk learned the news, and immediately
rushed out, following the path Yeno had taken. At midday he
overtook him, and without a word tried to pull the robe and bowl
out of Yeno's hands.

Yeno put down the robe and the bowl on a rock by the path. "These
are only things which are symbols," he said to the monk. "If you
want the things so much, please take them."

The monk eagerly reached down and seized the objects. But he could
not budge them. They had become heavy as a mountain.

"Forgive me," he said at last, "I really want the teaching, not
the things. Will you teach me?"

Yeno replied, "Stop thinking this is mine and stop thinking this
is not mine. Then tell me, where are you? Tell me also: what did
your face look like, before your parents were born?"

* * *

Goso said: "Suppose you meet a Zen master on the road. You can't
talk to him. You can't stand there silent. What can you do?"

[To this koan, one of Mumon's comments was: "Whack him one!"]

* * *

A FAMOUS soldier came to the master Hakuin and asked: "Master,
tell me: is there really a heaven and a hell?"

"Who are you?" asked Hakuin.

"I am a soldier of the great Emperor's personal guard."

"Nonsense!" said Hakuin. "What kind of emperor would have you
around him? To me you look like a beggar!" At this, the soldier
started to rattle his big sword in anger. "Oho!" said Hakuin. "So
you have a sword! I'll wager it's much too dull to cut my head

At this the soldier could not hold himself back. He drew his sword
and threatened the master, who said: "Now you know half the
answer! You are opening the gates of hell!"

The soldier drew back, sheathed his sword, and bowed. "Now you
know the other half," said the master. "You have opencd the gates
of heaven."

* * *

THE STUDENT Doko came to a Zen master, and said: "I am seeking the
truth. In what state of mind should I train myself, so as to find

Said the master, "There is no mind, so you cannot put it in any
state. There is no truth, so you cannot train yourself for it."

"If there is no mind to train, and no truth to find, why do you
have these monks gather before you every day to study Zen and
train themselves for this study?"

"But I haven't an inch of room here," said the master, so how
could the monks gather? I have no tongue, so how could I call them
together or teach them?"

"Oh, how can you lie like this?" asked Doko. "But if I have no
tongue to talk to others, how can I lie to you?" asked the master.

Then Doko said sadly, "I cannot follow you. I cannot understand

"I cannot understand myself," said the master.

* * *

BASO said to a monk, "If I see you have a staff, I will give it to
you. If I see you have no staff, I will take it away from you.

* * *

THE TEACHER Nansen found two groups of monks, from the East hall
and the West hall, squabbling over the ownership of a pet cat. He
picked up the cat, waved it in the air over his head, and said to
the quarrelers:

"Say a good word if you want to save the cat!" No one said a word.
Nansen went to the kitchen, brought back a big cleaver, and
chopped the cat in half. He gave one-half to each group.

That night when Joshu returned to the monastery, Nansen told him
the story. Joshu said nothing; but he took off his sandals,
balanced them on his head, and walked away.

Nansen said aloud, "Joshu could have saved the cat."

* * *

LITTLE Toyo was only twelve years old. But since he was a pupil at
the Kennin temple, he wanted to be given a koan to ponder, just
like the more advanced students. So one evening, at the proper
time, he went to the room of Mokurai, the master, struck the gong
softly to announce his presence, bowed, and sat before the master
in respectful silence.

Finally the master said: "Toyo, show me the sound of two hands

Toyo clapped his hands.

"Good," said the master. "Now show me the sound of one hand

Toyo was silent. Finally he bowed and left to consider this

The next night he returned, and struck the gong with one palm.
"That is not right," said the master. The next night Toyo returned
and played geisha music with one hand. "That is not right," said
the master. The next night Toyo returned, and imitated the
dripping of water.

"That is not right," said the master. The next night Toyo
returned, and imitated the cricket scraping his leg. "That is
still not right," said the master.

For ten nights Toyo tried new sounds. At last he stopped coming to
the master. For a year he thought of every sound, and discarded
them all, until fnally he reached enlightenment.

He returned respectfully to the master. Without striking the gong,
he sat down and bowed. "I have heard sound without sound," he

* * *

A MONK came to the master Nansen and asked, "Tell me, is there
some teaching that no master has ever taught?"

Nansen said, "There is."

The monk asked, "Can you tell me what it is?"

Nansen said, "It is not Buddha. It is not things. It is not

* * *

BUTSUGEN said to his disciples; "Each of you has a pair of ears,
but what have you ever heard with them? Each of you has a mouth,
but what have you ever said with it? Each of you has eyes, but
what have you ever seen with them? No, no! You have never heard,
never spoken, never seen, never smelled.

"But in such a case where do all these colors, shapes, sounds,
smells, come from?"

* * *

WHO is the Buddha? What is the Buddha? Here are some of the
answers given by various masters to this question:

Something of clay, with gold-leaf.
The one there in the hall.
He isn't Buddha.
The mountains are traveling over the sea.
Look at that three-legged donkey.
Dry shit.
The mouth is the gateway of woe.
The best artist doesn't know how to paint him.
The bamboo grove out in back.

* * *

THE MASTER Gutei made a practice of raising his finger whenever he
explained a question about Zen. A very young disciple began to
imitate him, and every time Gutei raised his finger when he
preached, this boy would raise his finger too. Everybody laughed.

One day Gutei caught him at it. He took the boy's hand, whipped
out a knife, cut off the finger and threw it away. The boy walked
off howling.

"Stop!" shouted Gutei. The boy stopped, and looked at the master
through his tears. Gutei raised his finger. The boy raised his
finger. Then suddenly he realized it wasn't there. He hesitated a

Then he bowed.

* * *

THE MASTER Ikkyu showed his wisdom even as a child. Once he broke
the precious heirloom teacup of his teacher, and was greatly
upset. While he was wondering what to do, he heard his teacher
coming. Quickly he hid the pieces of the cup under his robe.

"Master," he said, "why do things die?"

"It is perfectly natural for things to die and for the matter
gathered in them to separate and disintegrate," said the teacher.
"When its time has come every person and every thing must go.

"Master," said little Ikkyu, showing the pieces, "it was time for
your cup to go.

* * *

RandomStu's picture

One more

The entire universe is on fire. Through what samadhi can you escape being burned?


RandomStu | Mon, 10/05/2009 - 01:00