A hermit was meditating by a river when a young man interrupted him.
“Master, I wish to become your disciple,” said the man.
“Why?” replied the hermit.
The young man thought for a moment. “Because I want to find God.”
The master jumped up, grabbed him by the scruff of his neck, dragged him into the river, and plunged his head under water. After holding him there for a minute, with him kicking and struggling to free himself, the master finally pulled him up out of the river. The young man coughed up water and gasped to get his breath.When he eventually quieted down, the master spoke.
“Tell me, what did you want most of all when you were under water?”
“Air!” answered the man.
“Very well,” said the master. “Go home and come back to me when you want God as much as you just wanted air.”
Working Very Hard
(from Zen Stories to Tell your Neighbors)
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.”
(in other versions of this story, the student says he is eager to attain “enlightenment”)
(from Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors)
During the civil wars in feudal Japan, an invading army would quickly sweep into a town and take control. In one particular village, everyone fled just before the army arrived - everyone except the Zen master. Curious about this old fellow, the general went to the temple to see for himself what kind of man this master was.
When he wasn’t treated with the deference and submissiveness to which he was accustomed, the general burst into anger. “You fool,” he shouted as he reached for his sword, “don’t you realize you are standing before a man who could run you through without blinking an eye!”
But despite the threat, the master seemed unmoved. “And do you realize,” the master replied calmly, “that you are standing before a man who can be run through without blinking an eye?”
Zen Story: Bankei’s Miracle
When Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through repetition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.
Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that Bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.
“The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?”
Bankei replied lightly: “Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink.”
A renowned Zen master taught his greatest teaching was this: Buddha is your own mind. One monk was so impressed by this profound idea he left the monastery and retreated to the wilderness to meditate on this insight. There he spent 20 years as a hermit probing the great teaching.
One day he met another monk, traveling through the forest. Quickly the hermit monk learned the traveler also studied under the same Zen master. “Please, tell me what you know of the master’s greatest teaching.” The traveler’s eyes lit up, “Ah, the master has been very clear about this. He says that his greatest teaching is this: Buddha is NOT your own mind.”
The Benefit of Zazen (Zen Meditation)
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 master 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.”
I’m an avid practitioner of zazen (Zen meditation) Like exercise trains the body, zazen trains the mind to become still, present and mindful.
Take today. Low on supplies, I head off to ALDI. It’s a little market near my house. They offer minimal service and selection to keep their prices low. Vigilance with resources is skillful action; indeed I am a ninja shopper. Approaching the store, I mindfully reach into my pocket to fish out a quarter to release a chained shopping cart. There are never any carts in the parking lot; no one is paid to retrieve them. Amazing what folks will do to get back 25 cents. Lower overhead; lower prices.
In any case, I paid careful attention to my empty pocket. Keenly aware of my frustrating feelings, I head back to the car, hoping to find a stray quarter there. Excellent; one in my drink-holder. Carefully I pick it up, lock the car and…clearly see my keys on the seat exactly where they had been thoughtfully placed. I’m locked out. Three deep breaths; still the racing thoughts.
Cognizant of my disappointment over having left my cellphone at home I walk next door to my workplace to call AAAuto service. One hour later, car unlocked, shopping cart in tow, I wisely choose my provisions and head to the check-out. I’m thoughtful of the order of my items on the belt. Cans with cans, frozen with frozen, dry goods with dry goods. Thinking ahead pays off. Time to pay.
ALDI doesn’t accept credit cards or personal checks; cash and debit cards only. Of course, I have my debit card. My purchase is declined. Deep breaths…call the bank. No cellphone. More deep breaths, observant of my discontent. The store manager lends me his phone. Purposefully, breathing slowly, I state my problem to the bank officer. My bank no longer allows point-of-purchase sales on debit cards without a Visa/MasterCard logo. The letter was sent out last week.
I received a notice from my bank. It wasn’t a statement. It had some offer for Visa/MasterCard. I don’t want anymore credit cards. Useless junk. After scanning it briefly I observantly tossed it. It was the notice from the bank. ALDI has no ATM. The convenience store across the street has an automated teller. Leaving my neatly stacked, melting frozen goods I get some cash and head back. All the while I’m tuned in to my anger. I am, after all, a practitioner of mindfulness.
Back at ALDI I pay for my supplies. ALDI has no baggers. To save on overhead, customers bring their own bags and pack them. Yes, I brought my bags. With great care and attention I arrange my items in specific order. Trunk sensibly packed I head home, where the provisions are placed on the kitchen floor. Time for a break. A half-hour trip lasted two and a half hours. A snack and a soda before putting the foodstuffs away. The potato chips (baked, of course) are in the bag with the snacks. The well packed sodas are…missing.
I should check the items on my receipt Frankly, being so attentive today has me worn out. Notice at no time did I drink a glass of soy sauce.
Banishing a Ghost
The wife of a man became very sick. On her deathbed, she said to him, “I love you so much! I don’t want to leave you, and I don’t want you to betray me. Promise that you will not see any other women once I die, or I will come back to haunt you.”
For several months after her death, the husband did avoid other women, but then he met someone and fell in love. On the night that they were engaged to be married, the ghost of his former wife appeared to him. She blamed him for not keeping the promise, and every night thereafter she returned to taunt him. The ghost would remind him of everything that transpired between him and his fiancee that day, even to the point of repeating, word for word, their conversations. It upset him so badly that he couldn’t sleep at all.
Desperate, he sought the advice of a Zen master who lived near the village. “This is a very clever ghost,” the master said upon hearing the man’s story. “It is!” replied the man. “She remembers every detail of what I say and do. It knows everything!” The master smiled, “You should admire such a ghost, but I will tell you what to do the next time you see it.”
That night the ghost returned. The man responded just as the master had advised. “You are such a wise ghost,” the man said, “You know that I can hide nothing from you. If you can answer me one question, I will break off the engagement and remain single for the rest of my life.” “Ask your question,” the ghost replied. The man scooped up a handful of beans from a large bag on the floor, “Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my hand.”
At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned.
Zen Story on the Beginning of Rituals
“When the spiritual teacher and his disciples began their evening meditation, the cat who lived in the monastery made such noise that it distracted them. So the teacher ordered that the cat be tied up during the evening practice.
Years later, when the teacher died, the cat continued to be tied up during the meditation session. And when the cat eventually died, another cat was brought to the monastery and tied up.
Centuries later, learned descendants of the spiritual teacher wrote scholarly treatises about the religious significance of tying up a cat for meditation practice.”
Maybe So, Maybe Not
One day, a farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbors expressed sympathy, “What terrible luck that you lost your horse!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
A few days later, the horse returned, leading several wild horses. The neighbors said, “Your horse has returned, and brought more with him. What great fortune!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the wild horses and got thrown to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what a calamity!”
The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”
A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, conscripting all the able-bodied young men for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son because of his broken leg. Neighbours shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!”
To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.
A farmer got so old that he couldn’t work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch.
His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there. “He’s of no use any more,” the son thought to himself, “he doesn’t do anything!”
One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wood coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in. Without saying anything, the father climbed inside.
After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff. As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up.
Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son. “I know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?”
“What is it?” replied the son.
“Throw me over the cliff, if you like,” said the father, “but save this good wood coffin. Your children might need to use it.”