Zen has a rich custom of storytelling. Actually, pretty much the whole human race has a rich history of storytelling. For what reason do we like stories to such an extent? Since we can relate to them. Stories, regardless of whether genuine or not, force and pull at our feelings. We interface by and by with stories.
Though somebody can tell us a story that it’s important for us to appreciate and care for our parents, someone else can tell a story to about our life.
I love Zen stories. I find them fun. Most Zen Buddhist short stories require some level of meditative contemplation to figure out. I love them because their purpose is to teach a lesson. Also, Zen short stories are not just Zen. They’re really the stories about life.
I’m not going to try to explain the stories as it would be missing the point. Only yourself can mediate upon the to reveal the insights.
Story one – 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 is no giving and nothing to be received.”
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.
“If nothing exists,” inquired Dokuon, “where did this anger come from?”
Story two – Really Letting Go
Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up and lifted her to the other side of the road, and continued on his way to the monastery.
Hours later, the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, “Sir isn’t it true, as monks, we cannot touch a woman?”
The elder monk answered, “yes, brother, that is true.”
Then the younger monk asks again, “but then, sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside?”
The elder monk smiled at him and told him ” I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her.”
Story three – On Heaven and Hell
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 angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued: “So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head.”
As Nobushige drew his sword Hakuin remarked: “Here open the gates of hell!” At these words the samurai, perceiving the master’s discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
“Here open the gates of paradise,” said Hakuin.