Bag of Nails

Once upon a time there was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he should hammer a nail in the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. But gradually, the number of daily nails dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the first day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. He proudly told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper. The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.

“You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out, it won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound is still there.”

– Unknown origin.

Sutra and Tantra

Let’s say there is a person walking along carrying some stones. He sees a dog, and throws his stones at the dog. He also sees a lion and he throws his stones at the lion, too.

What does the dog do? At the sight of the stone, the dog immediately tries to bite or chase it. Then the person gets to throw another stone at the dog. The dog again tries to follow the new stone and bite it. Now this guy has got a big collection of stones, so they are not going to run out any time soon. The dog becomes very tired.

Now when the man throws a stone at the lion, the lion does not look at the stone. Rather, he thinks, “Where did that stone come from? Who threw that stone?” When he sees the person who threw it, he pounces on him. A person only gets to throw one stone at a lion.

– Unknown origin. Heard from Mingyur Rinpoche, Tibetan Buddhism.

Autumn Leaf

One autumn day, I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf, in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions.

I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, β€œNo. During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say that I am just this form, because the form of leaf is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, β€˜I will see you again very soon.’”

Suddenly I saw a kind of wisdom very much like the wisdom contained in the Heart Sutra. You have to see life. You should not say, life of the leaf, you should only speak of life in the leaf and life in the tree. My life is just Life, and you can see it in me and in the tree. That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf.

– Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Tradition.

Cliffhanger

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, one white and one black, 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!

– D. T. Suzuki, author, professor, and student of Kosen Roshi and Soyen Shaku, Rinzai school.

Heavy head

Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.

While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said: “There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside your mind?”

One of the monks replied: “From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind.”

“Your head must feel very heavy,” observed Hogen, “if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind.”

– Unknown, Zen Tradition.

Advice from master to students

Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen Student.

When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.

Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest.

Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.

Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.

A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may only be guarding his wisdom carefully.

Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from heaven of themselves as does rain or snow.

Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbors discover you before you make yourself known to them.

A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.

To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.

Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.

Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave an immediate appreciation.

Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe.

Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.

– Written by Master Zengetsu, Zen/Chan Tradition, for his students.

Poking a Red Ants’ Nest

Sensuality is like taking a stick and using it to poke a big red ants’ nest. The more we poke it, the more the red ants come falling on us, onto our face, into our eyes, stinging our ears and eyes. But we don’t see the drawbacks of what we’re doing. It’s all good as far as we can see. Understand that if you don’t see the drawbacks of these things you’ll never work your way free of them.

– Ajahn Chah, Theravada, Thai Forest Tradition.

Bowl Of Oil

In India there was once a king who believed in a non-Buddhist religion which taught many kinds of bitter practices … some spread ashes on their bodies, and some slept on beds of nails. They cultivated all kinds of ascetic practices. Meanwhile, the Bhikshus who cultivated the Buddhadharma had it ‘easy,’ because they didn’t cultivate that way. Now, the king of that country said to the Buddha’s disciples, ‘It’s my belief that the ascetic practices which these non-Buddhists cultivate still don’t enable them to end their afflictions. How much the less must you Bhikshus, who are so casual, be able to sever the affliction of your thoughts of sexual desire.’

One of the Dharma Masters answered the king this way: ‘Suppose you take a man from jail who had been sentenced to execution, and you say to him ‘Take this bowl of oil and carry it in your two hands as you walk down the highway. If you don’t spill a single drop, I’ll release you when you return.’ Then, suppose you send some beautiful women musicians out on the highway to sing and play their instruments where the sentenced man is walking with his bowl of oil. If he should spill any oil, of course, you’ll execute him. But if he should come back without spilling a single drop, what do you suppose he will answer if you ask him what he’s seen on the road?”

The king of country did just that: he took a man destined to be executed and said to him, ‘Today you should be executed but I’m going to give you an opportunity to save your life. How? I’ll give you a bowl of oil to carry in your two hands as you take a walk on the highway. If you can do it without spilling a single drop, I’ll spare your life. Go try it.’ The sentenced man did as he was told. He went out on the highway, and when he returned he had not spilled one drop. Then the king asked him, ‘What did you see out on the highway?’ The sentenced man said, ‘I didn’t see a single thing. All I did was watch the oil to keep it from spilling. I didn’t see anything else or hear anything at all.’

So, the king asked the Dharma Master, ‘Well, what is the principle here?’ The Dharma Master answered, ‘The sentenced man was like the novice who has left the home life. Both see the question of Birth and Death as too important to waste time on thoughts of sexual desire.’

– Master Hsuan Hua, Huiyang Chan School.

Attachment

Once there was a devoted old woman who built a place of retreat for a monk, arranging that he would not lack for anything, so that he could concentrate upon his meditation and practice.

One day, after twenty years, she instructed her daughter: “Today, after serving the Master his meal, take advantage of the situation to embrace him tightly, asking him at the same time, ‘how does it feel to be hugged these days?’ Come back and let me know his answer as faithfully as you can.”

The daughter dutifully did as she was told, putting her arms around the Master and asking the question.

The Master replied, ‘I am not moved in the very least by sexual desire, no different from a dried up tree leaning against a cold mass of rocks in the middle of winter, when not even a drop of warmth can be found.’

The young girl repeated the answer to her mother, who said unhappily, ‘I have really wasted my time and effort during the last twenty years. Little did I know that I was only supporting a common mortal!’ Having said this, she went out, evicted the monk, lit a fire and burned the meditation hut to the ground.

– Unknown origin, told by Master Tam, Zen Tradition.