If you ever go to Guncan-Gima, the site of a Zen Buddhist temple, you will be surprised to see that the extraordinarily beautiful building, which is situated in the middle of a vast forest, is right next to a huge piece of waste ground. If you ask what the waste ground is for, the man in […]

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Riding My Bicycle

A Zen Teacher saw five of his students return from the market, riding their bicycles. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked the students, “Why are you riding your bicycles?” The first student replied, “The bicycle is carrying this sack of potatoes. I am glad that I do not have to carry them on my […]

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Nothing Exists

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: “The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There […]

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The Gates of Paradise

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 […]

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The Old Crofter

An old hill farming crofter trudges several miles through freezing snow to his local and very remote chapel for Sunday service. No-one else is there, aside from the clergyman. “I’m not sure it’s worth proceeding with the service – might we do better to go back to our warm homes and a hot drink?..” asks […]

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The Great Crossing

The Buddha said: “A man beginning a long journey sees ahead a vast body of water. There is neither boat nor bridge. To escape the dangers of his present location, he constructs a raft of grass and branches. When he reaches the other side he realizes how useful the raft was and wonders if he […]

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A Foot of Jade

A great official came to the master Takuan asking for help in passing his days more eventfully. All day long, he explained, he sat receiving supplications and reports, and he found it all very dull. Takuan took brush and paper, and wrote eight Chinese characters. Translated, they said: No day comes back again: One inch […]

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A famous spiritual teacher came to the front door of the King’s palace. None of the guards tried to stop him as he entered and made his way to where the King himself was sitting on his throne. “What do you want?” asked the King, immediately recognizing the visitor.”I would like a place to sleep […]

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Empty Boat

A monk decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes and begins his meditation. After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own. With his eyes still closed, […]

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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 […]

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