Teacups

A student asked Suzuki Roshi why the Japanese make their teacups so thin and delicate that they break easily. “It’s not that they’re too delicate,” he answered, “but that you don’t know how to handle them. You must adjust yourself to the environment, and not vice versa.”

From an unknown student of Suzuki Roshi, Sōtō Zen Tradition.

The Worm and the Heavenly Being

There were once two monks who lived together in a monastery for many years; they were great friends. Then they died within a few months of one another.

One of them got reborn in the heaven realms, the other monk got reborn as a worm in a dung pile.

The one up in the heaven realms was having a wonderful time, enjoying all the heavenly pleasures. But he started thinking about his friend, “I wonder where my old mate has gone?” So he scanned all of the heaven realms, but could not find a trace of his friend. Then he scanned the realm of human beings, but he could not see any trace of his friend there, so he looked in the realm of animals and then of insects. Finally he found him, reborn as a worm in a dung pile…

“Wow!”, he thought, “I am going to help my friend. I am going to go down there to that dung pile and take him up to the heavenly realm so he too can enjoy the heavenly pleasures and bliss of living in these wonderful realms.”

So he went down to the dung pile and called his mate. And the little worm wriggled out and said, “Who are you?”.

“I am your friend. We used to be monks together in a past life, and I have come up to take you to the heaven realms where life is wonderful and blissful.” But the worm said, “Go away, get lost!”

“But I am your friend, and I live in the heaven realms,” and he described the heaven realms to him. But the worm said, “No thank you, I am quite happy here in my dung pile. Please go away.”

Then the heavenly being thought, “Well if I could only just grab hold of him and take him up to the heaven realms, he could see for himself.” So he grabbed hold of the worm and started tugging at him; and the harder he tugged, the harder that worm clung to his pile of dung.

– Unknown origin, told by Ajahn Brahm, Theravada.

The thief and the master

One evening, Zen master Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras when a thief entered his house with a sharp sword, demanding, “your money or your life!”.

Without any fear, Shichiri said, “Don’t disturb me! Help yourself to the money. It’s in that drawer”. And he resumed his recitation.

The thief was startled by this unexpected reaction, but he proceeded with his business anyway. While he was helping himself with the money, the master stopped and called, “Don’t take all of it. Leave some for me to pay my taxes tomorrow”. The thief left some money behind and prepared to leave. Just before he left, the master suddenly shouted at him, “You took my money and you didn’t even thank me?! That’s not polite!”. This time, the thief was really shocked at such fearlessness. He thanked the master and ran away. The thief later told his friends that he had never been so frightened in his life.

A few days later, the thief was caught and confessed many crimes including his theft at Shichiri’s house. When the master was called as a witness, he said, “No, this man did not steal anything from me. I gave him the money. He even thanked me for it.”

The thief was so touched that he decided to repent. Upon his release from prison, he became a disciple of the master and many years later, he is said to have attained Enlightenment.

– Unknown author, Zen Tradition.

What is Zen?

It is said that the Budai (laughing Buddha) travelled around giving candy to poor children, only asking a penny from Zen monks or lay practitioners he meets. One day a monk walked up to him and asked, “What is the meaning of Zen?”.

Budai dropped his bag.

The monk then asked, “How does one realize Zen?”.

Budai then took up his bag and continued on his way.

– Unknown Author, Zen Tradition

The old man and the scorpion

One morning, after he had finished his meditation, the old man opened his eyes and saw a scorpion floating helplessly in the water. As the scorpion was washed closer to the tree, the old man quickly stretched himself out on one of the long roots that branched out into the river and reached out to rescue the drowning creature. As soon as he touched it, the scorpion stung him. Instinctively the man withdrew his hand. A minute later, after he had regained his balance, he stretched himself out again on the roots to save the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him so badly with its
poisonous tail that his hand became swollen and bloody and his face contorted with pain.

At that moment, a passerby saw the old man stretched out on the roots struggling with the scorpion and shouted: “Hey, stupid old man, what’s wrong with you? Only a fool would risk his life for the sake of an ugly, evil creature. Don’t you know you could kill yourself trying to save that ungrateful scorpion?”

The old man turned his head. Looking into the stranger’s eyes he said calmly, “My friend, just because it is the scorpion’s nature to sting, that does not change my nature to save.”

– Unknown

Two monks and a woman

Two monks, going to a neighbouring monastery, walked side by side in silence. They arrived at a river they had to cross. That season, waters were higher than usual. On the bank, a young woman was hesitating and asked the younger of the two monks for help. He exclaimed, ‘Don’t you see that I am a monk, that I took a vow of chastity?’

‘I require nothing from you that could impede your vow, but simply to help me to cross the river,’ replied the young woman with a little smile.

‘I…not…I can…do nothing for you,’ said the embarrassed young monk.

‘It doesn’t matter,’ said the elderly monk. ‘Climb on my back and we will cross together.’

Having reached the other bank, the old monk put down the young woman who, in return, thanked him with a broad smile. She left her side and both monks continued their route in silence. Close to the monastery, the young monk could not stand it anymore and said, ‘You shouldn’t have carried that person on your back. It’s against our rules.’

‘This young woman needed help and I put her down on the other bank. You didn’t carry her at all, but she is still on your back,’ replied the older monk.

– Unknown