Zen Stones

Today’s bit of literature is different from all my previous ones: first of all, it’s not really a literature in its common meaning, secondly, there are eight bits instead of just one. But each of these short Zen stories carries a wisdom that some other long stories or even novels struggle to express.

It’s Sunday, so why don’t you sit back, relax and meditate. These are just some of my favourite Zen stories. If you find yourself wanting for more, check out 101 Zen Stories and Zen Stories To Tell Your Neighbors.

Sounds of Silence

Four monks decided to meditate silently without speaking for two weeks. By nightfall on the first day, the candle began to flicker and then went out. The first monk said, “Oh, no! The candle is out.” The second monk said, “Aren’t we not suppose to talk?” The third monk said, “Why must you two break the silence?” The fourth monk laughed and said, “Ha! I’m the only one who didn’t speak.”

Surprising the Master

The students in the monastery were in total awe of the elder monk, not because he was strict, but because nothing ever seemed to upset or ruffle him. So they found him a bit unearthly and even frightening.

One day they decided to put him to a test. A bunch of them very quietly hid in a dark corner of one of the hallways, and waited for the monk to walk by. Within moments, the old man appeared, carrying a cup of hot tea. Just as he passed by, the students all rushed out at him screaming as loud as they could. But the monk showed no reaction whatsoever. He peacefully made his way to a small table at the end of the hall, gently placed the cup down, and then, leaning against the wall, cried out with shock, “Ohhhhh!”

True Self

A distraught man approached the Zen master. “Please, Master, I feel lost, desperate. I don’t know who I am. Please, show me my true self!” But the teacher just looked away without responding. The man began to plead and beg, but still the master gave no reply. Finally giving up in frustration, the man turned to leave. At that moment the master called out to him by name. “Yes!” the man said as he spun back around. “There it is!” exclaimed the master.

A Cup of 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?”

The Nature of Things

Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung. The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it’s nature is to sting?”

“Because,” the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.”

Self-Control

One day there was an earthquake that shook the entire Zen temple. Parts of it even collapsed. Many of the monks were terrified. When the earthquake stopped the teacher said, “Now you have had the opportunity to see how a Zen man behaves in a crisis situation. You may have noticed that I did not panic. I was quite aware of what was happening and what to do. I led you all to the kitchen, the strongest part of the temple. It was a good decision, because you see we have all survived without any injuries. However, despite my self-control and composure, I did feel a little bit tense – which you may have deduced from the fact that I drank a large glass of water, something I never do under ordinary circumstances.”

One of the monks smiled, but didn’t say anything.

“What are you laughing at?” asked the teacher.

“That wasn’t water,” the monk replied, “it was a large glass of soy sauce.”

Egotism

The Prime Minister of the Tang Dynasty was a national hero for his success as both a statesman and military leader. But despite his fame, power, and wealth, he considered himself a humble and devout Buddhist. Often he visited his favorite Zen master to study under him, and they seemed to get along very well. The fact that he was prime minister apparently had no effect on their relationship, which seemed to be simply one of a revered master and respectful student.

One day, during his usual visit, the Prime Minister asked the master, “Your Reverence, what is egotism according to Buddhism?” The master’s face turned red, and in a very condescending and insulting tone of voice, he shot back, “What kind of stupid question is that!?”

This unexpected response so shocked the Prime Minister that he became sullen and angry. The Zen master then smiled and said, “THIS, Your Excellency, is egotism.”

Working Very Hard

A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.” The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.” Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?” The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

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Hi, I'm Vivien. Thanks for visiting my Inspiration Bit. I often find myself scouring the internet looking for either answers to many questions I have or websites that inspire me, sites that I can learn from. On what topics you might ask — any topics that interest me, anything from web design to typography and art, from blogging to entrepreneurship, from programming to open source.
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When I'm not blogging, I design web sites, teach, play with my daughter and try to balance family, work, friends and a somewhat active social life on