1074 Zen Is True








When I studied koans for my essay KOAN, I decided to use short koans, for the simple reason I wanted the essay to fit in comfortably with the style of my book. But koans come in many shapes and forms ... and lengths. Koans are brief life-lessons ... many are based on short conversations between master and pupil.



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One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, “Give me the best piece of meat you have.”


“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You can not find any piece of meat that is not the best.”


At these words, Banzan was enlightened.


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One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?”


Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”


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When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.


At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!


In commemoration, she wrote a poem:


"In this way and that I tried to save the old pail

Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break

Until at last the bottom fell out.

No more water in the pail.

No more moon in the water."


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One day Chao-chou fell down in the snow, and called out, “Help me up! Help me up!” A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao-chou got up and went away.


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Te-shan was sitting outside doing zazen. Lung-t’an asked him why he didn’t go back home. Te-shan answered, “Because it’s dark.”


Lung-t’an then lit a candle and handed it to him. As Te-shan was about to take it, Lung-t’an blew it out. Te-shan had a sudden realisation, and bowed.


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A monk asked Zhao Zhou to teach him.

Zhao Zhou asked, “Have you eaten your meal?”

The monk replied, “Yes, I have.”

“Then go wash your bowl,” said Zhao Zhou.

At that moment, the monk was enlightened.


 

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As Shakyamuni meditated beneath the bodhi tree, Mara pointed to the place where he sat and demanded, “Who witnesses your right to the seat of enlightenment?”


Shakyamuni reached a finger down to touch the ground. “I call the Earth as my witness,” he replied.


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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?"


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Tanzan wrote sixty postal cards on the last day of his life, and asked an attendent to mail them. Then he passed away.


The cards read:


"I am departing from this world.

This is my last announcement."


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One day Unsho visited Tanzan, who was drinking wine at the time, not even a drop of which is suppposed to touch the tongue of a Buddhist.


"Hello, brother," Tanzan greeted him. "Won't you have a drink?"


"I never drink!" exclaimed Unsho solemnly.


"One who does not drink is not even human," said Tanzan.


"Do you mean to call me inhuman just because I do not indulge in intoxicating liquids!" exclaimed Unsho in anger. "Then if I am not human, what am I?"


"A Buddha," answered Tanzan.


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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 to steal.


Ryokan returned and caught him. "You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."


The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.


Ryoken sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon."


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A Zen master named Gisan asked a young student to bring him a pail of water to cool his bath.


The student brought the water and, after cooling the bath, threw on to the ground the little that was left over.


"You dunce!" the master scolded him. "Why didn't you give the rest of the water to the plants? What right have you to waste even a drop of water in this temple?"


The young student attained Zen in that instant. He changed his name to Tekisui, which means a drop of water.


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Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road.


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 go 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?"


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A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.


Two mice little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other. How sweet it tasted!


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The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai, Silent Thunder. He had a little protege named Toyo who was only twelve years old. Toyo saw the older disciples visit the master's room each morning and evening to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidance in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering.


Toyo wished to do sanzen also.


"Wait a while," said Mokurai. "You are too young."


But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.


In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai's sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.


"You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together," said Mokurai. "Now show me the sound of one hand."


Toyo bowed and went to his room to consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. "Ah, I have it!" he proclaimed.


The next evening, when his teacher asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play the music of the geishas.


"No, no," said Mokurai. "That will never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You've not got it at all."


Thinking that such music might interrupt, Toyo moved his abode to a quiet place. He meditated again. "What can the sound of one hand be?" He happened to hear some water dripping. "I have it," imagined Toyo.


When he next appeared before his teacher, Toyo imitated dripping water.


"What is that?" asked Mokurai. "That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again."


In vain Toyo meditated to hear the sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound was rejected.


He heard the cry of an owl. This also was refused.


The sound of one hand was not the locusts.


For more than ten times Toyo visited Mokurai with different sounds. All were wrong. For almost a year he pondered what the sound of one hand might be.


At last little Toyo entered true meditation and transcended all sounds. "I could collect no more," he explained later, "so I reached the soundless sound."


Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.















 

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