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Zen Stories

Zen stories, like Sufi stories are not just stories. They are not just for entertainment, they are fingers pointing to the moon. To understand these kind of stories it is important to read with great awareness, because they may open doors of transformation.

Zen is not to be understood by accumulation of knowledge. The rich literature about Zen does not change the fact that erudition and systematization only falsify Zen. The own internal world cannot be made an object and the intellect is simply not a suitable tool for direct insight. Zen is a transfer beyond all writings.

Zen stories usually describe in short form spontaneous occurrences from the life of Zen masters and their pupils. The context and background of the stories are usually not explained. Obviously Zen attributes little importance to words. Actually, Zen by its nature is not interested in interpretation. However, Zen does not reject words as such. Although in Buddhism - as in other religions, a large number of writings exists, Zen gives particular importance to direct experience. No distinction is made between life in the monastery and the world of the everyday life. Thus Zen remained alive and devoid of dogmas for centuries.


A Cup of Tea Nanin received the attendance of a university professor who wanted to know about Zen. Nanin served tea. He filled up the cup of his visitor but did not stop pouring the tea. The professor observed the overflowing tea bowl, until he could no longer contain himself.

"It is overflowing! More is not possible!"

"As this cup," said Nanin, "you are full with your opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen, until you have emptied your cup?"


Rice Bowl A monk came to Joshu:"
I have just arrived in the monastery. Please, teach me."
Joshu asked: "Have you eaten your rice?"
The monk answered: "I have eaten."
Joshu said: "Then wash your bowl"




A monk visited the Zen master Gensha and asked how one arrives at reality.
Gensha asked: "Do you hear the murmuring of the brook?"
"I hear it,"said the monk.
Gensha said: "That is a possibility to arrive."


Zen regards religious or philosophical dogmas as an escape. With our ideas we flee life. Zazen is the opposite of escaping reality. Zen means to see reality and relax in the present.

When Bodhidharma, the founder of the Zen, came to China, he was received by emperor Wu. Against all expectations emperor Wu saw himself confronted with a man, who not only looked like a bandit, but also carried a shoe on his head! When the emperor, surrounded by it's yard state, tried to get rid of Bodhidharma by friendly conversation, Bodhidharma said:"Ask the question!"
Wu could not resist asking about the shoe.
Bodhidharma answered: "The shoe is there in order to make it clear for once and forever: Either you are direct from the very beginning and ask your questions or you will never see me again."

Wu asked his first question:
"I have established many temples, helped to copy scriptures and supported many monks and nuns. What reward have I thereby acquired for myself?"
"None", said Bodhidharma.
"Why not?", the surprised emperor asked.
"You were only exploited. Like a shadow your actions show the motives, which you follow."

Wu changed the topic and continued his questioning:
"What is the sense of your teachings?"
Bodhidharma said: "Wide emptiness, nothing holy"

White Cloud

Despite the clarity and simplicity of Bodhidharmaís response, Wu could not understand him. Reality is independent of words, writings and dogmas. Out of terms and distinctions arises only dispute. All rights and wrongs are without substance. Orientation to religious or political ideas is the cause of a large part of our suffering. Ideas give us a deceitful feeling of security. It doesn't seem easy to break the wall made of ideas. But reality is not far away. In the long run hypotheses do not help. In order to see we must look into our own reality.


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