Best Zen Stories That Will Open The Gates of Wisdom For You
Best Zen Stories: Zen stories are very popular among readers because these short but deep-meaning stories contain many simple formulas ranging from changing personality to making life happy which an average human mind can easily grasp. The meaning of the word Zen is ‘Knowledge.’ The primary focus of nearly all Zen stories is to maintain your mental equilibrium or concentration of mind under any circumstances as only a concentrated mind can acquire the true knowledge.
The directness of Zen has led many to believe it stemmed from sources before the time of Buddha, in 500 BC. But the reality is that many centuries after the departure of Mahatma Buddha, the Buddhist teachers introduced Zen to the people. It is believed that the first Zen patriarch Bodhidharma brought Zen to China from India in the sixth century.
According to his biography recorded in the year 1004 by the Chinese teacher Dogen, after nine years in China Bodhidharma wished to go home and gathered his disciples about him to test their apperception. He was very pleased to see the progress of the disciples.
Old Zen was so fresh it became treasured and remembered. In the modern era, the credit goes to Rider and Company, London, and David McKay Company, Philadelphia for introducing people to Zen stories who first published these Stories as ‘101 Zen Stones’ in 1919.
These stories recount the actual experiences of Chinese and Japanese Zen teachers over a period of more than five centuries. Considering the importance of Zen stories we are going to share some famous stories that will inspire you to move forward in life.
1. Is That So?: A Famous Zen Story on Patience & Forbearance
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life. A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was pregnant. This made her parents very angry. They wanted to know who was the father of the child. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment, the anxious girl finally pointed to Hakuin, the Zen master whom everyone previously revered for living such a pure life.
When the outraged parents confronted Hakuin with their daughter’s accusation, he simply replied: “Is that so?” When the child was born, the parents brought it to the Hakuin. They demanded that he take care of the child since it was his responsibility. “Is that so?” Hakuin said calmly as he accepted the child. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child.
For many months he obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed. A year later the girl-mother could no longer withstand the lie she had told. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fish market and whom she had tried to protect.
The parents of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again. With profuse apologies, they explained what had happened. Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”
Moral of The Story: With patience and forbearance every mishap can be handled. Only those fear criticism who do not know themselves well but for the self-realized person, it means nothing.
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2. The Successor: A Zen Story About Talent And Success
The old Zen master’s health was fading. Knowing his death was near, he announced to all the monks that he soon would be passing down his robe and rice bowl to appoint the next master of the monastery. His choice, he said, would be based on a contest. Anyone seeking the appointment was required to demonstrate his spiritual wisdom by submitting a poem.
The head monk, the most obvious successor, presented a poem that was well-composed and insightful. All the monks anticipated his selection as their new leader. However, the next morning another poem appeared on the wall in the hallway, apparently written during the dark hours of the night.
It stunned everyone with its elegance and profundity but no one knew who the author was. Determined to find this person, the old master began questioning all the monks. To his surprise, the investigation led to the rather quiet kitchen worker who pounded rice for the meals.
Upon hearing the news, the jealous head monk and his comrades plotted to kill their rival. In secret, the old master passed down his robe and bowl to the rice pounder, who quickly fled from the monastery, later to become a widely renowned Zen teacher.
Moral of The Story: The person who everyone thinks is best doesn’t always end up winning.
3. Learning The Hard Way: A Zen Story About Struggle
The son of a master thief asked his father to teach him the secrets of the trade. The old thief agreed and that night took his son to burglarize a large house. While the family was asleep, he silently led his young apprentice into a room that contained a clothes closet. The father told his son to go into the closet to pick out some clothes.
When he did, his father quickly shut the door and locked him in. Then he went back outside, knocked loudly on the front door, thereby waking the family, and quickly slipped away before anyone saw him. Hours later, his son returned home, bedraggled and exhausted.
“Father,” he cried angrily, “Why did you lock me in that closet? If I hadn’t been made desperate by my fear of getting caught, I never would have escaped. It took all my ingenuity to get out!” The old thief smiled. “Son, you have had your first lesson in the art of burglary.”
Moral of The Story: A challenge brings out the most in a man.
4. Maybe: A Zen Story About An Optimist Farmer
There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses.
“How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer.
The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. ” Maybe,” said the farmer.
Moral of The Story: Don’t worry, be happy! As everything happens for a reason, and worrying about what has or will happen has no effect.
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5. Arresting The Stone Buddha: A Zen Story About Wisdom
A merchant bearing fifty rolls of cotton goods on his shoulder stopped to rest from the heat of the day beneath a shelter when a large stone Buddha was standing. Then he fell asleep, and when he awoke his goods had disappeared. He immediately reported the matter to the police. A judge named O-oka opened court to investigate. ‘That stone Buddha must have stolen the goods,’ concluded the judge.
‘He is supposed to care for the welfare of the people but he has failed to perform his holy duty. Arrest him’ The police arrested the stone Buddha and carried it into the court. A noisy crowd followed the statue; curious to learn what kind of a sentence the judge was about to impose. When O-oka appeared on the bench he rebuked the boisterous audience.
“What right have you people to appear before the court laughing and joking in this manner? You are in contempt of court and subject to a fine and imprisonment.’ The people hastened to apologize. “I shall have to impose a fine on you,’ said the judge,’ but I will remit it provided each one of you brings one roll, of cotton goods to the court within three days.
Anyone failing to do this will be arrested.’ One of the rolls of cloth, which the people brought, was quickly recognized by the merchant as his own, and thus the thief was easily discovered. The merchant recovered his goods, and the cotton rolls were returned to the people.
Moral of The Story: Every problem can be solved if you work on it with a focused mind.
6. How To Overpower The Opponent: A Zen Story on Intellect
The master Bankei’s talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras nor indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners. His large audiences 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 debate with Bankei. “Hey, Zen Master!” 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.”
Moral of The Story: Wisdom is the mightiest force in the world. You can overpower anyone through it.
7. If You Love, Love Openly: A Zen Story About Confidence
Twenty monks and one nun, who was named Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen master. Eshun was very pretty even though her head was shaved and her dress plain. Several monks secretly fell in love with her. One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a private meeting.
Eshun did not reply. The following day the master gave a lecture to the group, and when it was over, Eshun arose. Addressing the one who had written her, she said: ‘If you really love me so much, come and embrace me now.’
Moral of The Story: A true lover never fears and only a self-confident and pure person can love truly.
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8. The Last Poem of Hoshin: A Zen Story on Self-realization
The Zen master Hoshin lived in China for many years. Then he returned to the northeastern part of Japan, where he taught his disciples. When he was getting very old, he told them a story he had heard in China. This is the story: One year on the twenty-fifth of December, Tokufu, who was very old, said to his disciples: I am not going to be alive next year so you fellows should treat me well this year.’
The pupils thought he was joking, but since he was a great-hearted teacher each of them in turn treated him to a feast on succeeding days of the departing year. On the eve of the New Year, Tokufu concluded: ‘You have been good to me. I shall leave you tomorrow afternoon when the snow has stopped.’ The disciples laughed, thinking he was aging and talking nonsense since the night was clear and without snow.
But at midnight snow began to fall, and the next day they did not find their teacher. They went to the meditation hall. There he had passed on. Hoshin, who related this story, told his disciples: ‘It is not necessary for a Zen master to predict his passing, but if he really wishes to do so, he can.’ ‘Can you?’ someone asked. ‘Yes,’ answered Hoshin. ‘I will show you what I can do seven days from now.
None of the disciples believed him, and most of them had even forgotten the conversation when Hoshin next called them together. ‘Seven days ago,’ he remarked, ‘I said I was going to leave you. It is customary to write a farewell poem, but I am neither poet nor a calligrapher. Let one of you inscribe my last words.’ His followers thought he was joking, but one of them started to write.
‘Are you ready?’ Hoshin asked. ‘Yes, sir,’ replied the writer. Then Hoshin dictated: I came from brilliancy And return to brilliancy. What is this? The poem was one line short of the customary four, so, the disciple said: ‘Master, we are one line short.’ Hoshin, with the roar of a conquering lion, shouted ‘Kaa!’ and was gone.
Moral of The Story: Self-realized Souls never fear death. They are always ready to depart from this mortal world.
9. Obsessed: A Zen Story About Attachment To The Things
Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. Heavy rain was still falling. When the two monks reached a river they met a lovely young woman in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection. Wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. Ekido hesitated, but Tanzan quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. She thanked him and departed.
As the monks continued on their way, Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “Brother, we monks don’t go near females. Our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. But you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her. Why did you do that?”
“Brother,” the second monk replied, “I set her down on the other side, while you are still carrying her.”
Moral of The Story: Attachment to the things first originates in the mind. One whose mind is free from attachment is a true sage.
10. The Gates of Paradise: A Zen Story on Anger Management
A soldier named Nobushige 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 soldier!’ exclaimed Hakuin. ‘What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar.’
Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: ‘So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.’
As Nohushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: ‘Here open the gates of hell!’ At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed. ‘Here open the gates of paradise,’ said Hakuin.
Moral of The Story: Anger is one surest door to hell as it destroys man’s power of thinking and understanding.