Muju. 101 Zen Stories. Compiled by Nyogen Senzaki. 1919. Retrieved 2019, from

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

A Mother’s Advice

Jiun, a Shogun master, was a well-known Sanskrit scholar of the Tokugawa era. When he was young he used to deliver lectures to his brother students.
His mother heard about this and wrote him a letter:
“Son, I do not think you became a devotee of the Buddha because you desired to turn into a walking dictionary for others. There is no end to information and commentation, glory and honor. I wish you would stop this lecture business. Shut yourself up in a little temple in a remote part of the mountain. Devote your time to meditation and in this way attain true realization.”


Tanzan wrote sixty postal cards on the last day of his life, and asked an attendant to mail them. Then he passed away.
The cards read:
I am departing from this world.
This is my last announcement.
– Tanzan July 27, 1892

Arresting the Stone Buddha

A merchant bearing fifty rolls of cotton goods on his shoulders stopped to rest from the heat of the day beneath a shelter where a large stone Buddha was standing. There he fell asleep, and when he awoke his goods had disappeared. He immediately reported the matter to the police.
A judge named O-oka opened court to investigate. “That stone Buddha must have stolen the goods,” concluded the judge. “He is supposed to care for the welfare of the people, but he has failed to perform his holy duty. Arrest him.”
The police arrested the stone Buddha and carried it into the court. A noisy crowd followed the statue, curious to learn what kind of sentence the judge was about to impose.
When O-oka appeared on the bench he rebuked the boisterous audience. “What right have you people to appear before the court laughing and joking in this manner? You are in contempt of court and subject to a fine and imprisonment.”
The people hastened to apologize. “I shall have to impose a fine on you,” said the judge, “but I will remit it provided each one of you brings one roll of cotton goods to the court within three days. Anyone failing to do this will be arrested.”
One of the rolls of cloth which the people brought was quickly recognized by the merchant as his own, and thus the thief was easily discovered. The merchant recovered his goods, and the cotton rolls were returned to the people.

Calling Card

Keichu, the great Zen teacher of the Meiji era, was the head of Tofuku, a cathedral in Kyoto. One day the governor of Kyoto called upon him for the first time.
His attendant presented the card of the governor, which read: Kitagaki, Governor of Kyoto.
“I have no business with such a fellow,” said Keichu to his attendant. “Tell him to get out of here.”
The attendant carried the card back with apologies. “That was my error,” said the governor, and with a pencil he scratched out the words Governor of Kyoto. “Ask your teacher again.”
“Oh, is that Kitagaki?” exclaimed the teacher when he saw the card. “I want to see that fellow.”

Children of His Majesty

Yamaoka Tesshu was a tutor of the emperor. He was also a master of fencing and a profound student of Zen.
His home was the abode of vagabonds. He had but one suit of clothes, for they kept him always poor.
The emperor, observing how worn his garments were, gave Yamaoka some money to buy new ones. The next time Yamaoka appeared he wore the same old outfit.
“What became of the new clothes, Yamaoka?” asked the emperor.
“I provided clothes for the children of Your Majesty,” explained Yamaoka.

Is That So?

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbors as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents very angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parents went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbors and everything else the little one needed.
A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – that the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask his forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back again.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”

Joshu’s Zen

Joshu began the study of Zen when he was sixty years old and continued until he was eighty, when he realized Zen.
He taught from the age of eighty until he was one hundred and twenty.
A student once asked him: “If I haven’t anything in my mind, what shall I do?”
Joshu replied: “Throw it out.”
“But if I haven’t anything, how can I throw it out?” continued the questioner.
“Well,” said Joshu, “then carry it out.”

Kasan Sweat

Kasan was asked to officiate at the funeral of a provincial lord.
He had never met lords and nobles before so he was nervous. When the ceremony started, Kasan sweat.
Afterwards, when he had returned, he gathered his pupils together. Kasan confessed that he was not yet qualified to be a teacher for he lacked the sameness of bearing in the world of fame that he possessed in the secluded temple. Then Kasan resigned and became the pupil of another master. Eight years later he returned to his former pupils, enlightened.


Gasan instructed his adherents one day: “Those who speak against killing and who desire to spare the lives of all conscious beings are right. It is good to protect even animals and insects. But what about those persons who kill time, what about those who are destroying wealth, and those who destroy political economy? We should not overlook them. Furthermore, what of the one who preaches without enlightenment? He is killing Buddhism.”

Learning to Be Silent

The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to observe seven days of silence.
On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant: “Fix those lamps.”
The second pupils was surprised to hear the first one talk. “We are not supposed to say a word,” he remarked.
“You two are stupid. Why did you talk?” asked the third.
“I am the only one who has not talked,” concluded the fourth pupil.

Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.
“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”

My Heart Burns Like Fire

Soyen Shaku, the first Zen teacher to come to America, said: “My heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes.” He made the following rules which he practiced every day of his life.
In the morning before dressing, light incense and meditate.
Retire at a regular hour.
Partake of food at regular intervals. Eat with moderation and never to the point of satisfaction.
Receive a guest with the same attitude you have when alone. When alone, maintain the same attitude you have in receiving guests.
Watch what you say, and whatever you say, practice it.
When an opportunity comes do not let it pass you by, yet always think twice before acting.
Do not regret the past. Look to the future.
Have the fearless attitude of a hero and the loving heart of a child.
Upon retiring, sleep as if you had entered your last sleep. Upon awakening, leave your bed behind you instantly as if you had cast away a pair of old shoes.

No Attachment to Dust

Zengetsu, a Chinese master of the T’ang dynasty, wrote the following advice for his pupils:
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 immediate appreciation.
Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.

No Loving – Kindness

There was an old woman in China who had supported a monk for over twenty years. She had built a little hut for him and fed him while he was meditating. Finally she wondered just what progress he had made in all this time.
To find out, she obtained the help of a girl rich in desire. “Go and embrace him,” she told her, “and then ask him suddenly: ‘What now?’”
The girl called upon the monk and without much ado caressed him, asking him what he was going to do about it.
“An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter,” replied the monk somewhat poetically. “Nowhere is there any warmth.”
The girl returned and related what he had said.
“To think I fed that fellow for twenty years!” exclaimed the old woman in anger. “He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to passion, but at least he could have evidenced some compassion;”
She at once went to the hut of the monk and burned it down.

No Work, No Food

Hyakujo, the Chinese Zen master, used to labor with his pupils even at the age of eighty, trimming the gardens, cleaning the grounds, and pruning the trees.
The pupils felt sorry to see the old teacher working so hard, but they knew he would not listen to their advice to stop, so they hid away his tools.
That day the master did not eat. The next day he did not eat, nor the next. “He may be angry because we have hidden his tools,” the pupils surmised. “We had better put them back.”
The day they did, the teacher worked and ate the same as before. In the evening he instructed them: “No work, no food.”

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?”

Open Your Own Treasure House

Daiju visited the master Baso in China. Baso asked: “What do you seek?”
“Enlightenment,” replied Daiju.
“You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?” Baso asked.
Daiju inquired: “Where is my treasure house?”
Baso answered: “What you are asking is your treasure house.”
Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: “Open your own treasure house and use those treasures.”

Publishing the Sutras

Tetsugen, a devotee of Zen in Japan, decided to publish the sutras, which at that time were available only in Chinese. The books were to be printed with wood blocks in an edition of seven thousand copies, a tremendous undertaking.
Tetsugen began by traveling and collecting donations for this purpose. A few sympathizers would give him a hundred pieces of gold, but most of the time he received only small coins. He thanked each donor with equal gratitude. After ten years Tetsugen had enough money to begin his task.
It happened that at that time the Uji River overflowed. Famine followed. Tetsugen took the funds he had collected for the books and spent them to save others from starvation. Then he began again his work of collecting.
Several years afterwards an epidemic spread over the country. Tetsugen again gave away what he had collected, to help his people.
For a third time he started his work, and after twenty years his wish was fulfilled. The printing blocks which produced the first edition of sutras can be seen today in the Obaku monastery in Kyoto.
The Japanese tell their children that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras, and that the first two invisible sets surpass even the last.

Right and Wrong

When Bankei held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled. Bankei ignored the case.
Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.
When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him. “You are wise brothers,” he told them. “You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.”
A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished.

Soldiers of Humanity

Once a division of the Japanese army was engaged in a sham battle, and some of the officers found it necessary to make their headquarters in Gasan’s temple.
Gasan told his cook: “Let the officers have only the same simple fare we eat.”
This made the army men angry, as they were used to very deferential treatment. One came to Gasan and said: “Who do you think we are? We are soldiers, sacrificing our lives for our country. Why don’t you treat us accordingly?”
Gasan answered sternly: “Who do you think we are? We are soldiers of humanity, aiming to save all sentient beings.”

Storyteller’s Zen

Encho was a famous storyteller. His tales of love stirred the hearts of his listeners. When he narrated a story of war, it was as if the listeners themselves were on the field of battle.
One day Encho met Yamaoka Tesshu, a layman who had almost embraced masterhood in Zen. “I understand,” said Yamaoka, “you are the best storyteller in our land and that you make people cry or laugh at will. Tell me my favorite story of the Peach Boy. When I was a little tot I used to sleep beside my mother, and she often related this legend. In the middle of the story I would fall asleep. Tell it to me just as my mother did.”
Encho dared not attempt to do this. He requested time to study. Several months later he went to Yamaoka and said: “Please give me the opportunity to tell you the story.”
“Some other day,” answered Yamaoka.
Encho was keenly disappointed. He studied further and tried again. Yamaoka rejected him many times. When Encho would start to talk Yamaoka would stop him, saying: “You are not yet like my mother.”
It took Encho five years to be able to tell Yamaoka the legend as his mother had told it to him.
In this way, Yamaoka imparted Zen to Encho.

Teaching the Ultimate

In early times in Japan, bamboo-and-paper lanterns were used with candles inside. A blind man, visiting a friend one night, was offered a lantern to carry home with him.
“I do not need a lantern,” he said. “Darkness or light is all the same to me.”
“I know you do not need a lantern to find your way,” his friend replied, “but if you don’t have one, someone else may run into you. So you must take it.”
The blind man started off with the lantern and before he had walked very far someone ran squarely into him. “Look out where you are going!” he exclaimed to the stranger. “Can’t you see this lantern?”
“Your candle has burned out, brother,” replied the stranger.


A Zen student came to Bankei and complained: “Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?”
“You have something very strange,” replied Bankei. “Let me see what you have.”
“Just now I cannot show it to you,” replied the other.
“When can you show it to me?” asked Bankei.
“It arises unexpectedly,” replied the student.
“Then,” concluded Bankei, “it must not be your own true nature. If it were, you could show it to me at any time. When you were born you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to you. Think that over.”

The Blockhead Lord

Two Zen teachers, Daigu and Gudo, were invited to visit a lord. Upon arriving, Gudo said to the lord: “You are wise by nature and have an inborn ability to learn Zen.”
“Nonsense,” said Daigu. “Why do you flatter this blockhead? He may be a lord, but he doesn’t know anything of Zen.”
So, instead of building a temple for Gudo, the lord built it for Daigu and studied Zen with him.

The Dead Man’s Answer

When Mamiya, who later became a well-known preacher, went to a teacher for personal guidance, he was asked to explain the sound of one hand.
Mamiya concentrated upon what the sound of one hand might be. “You are not working hard enough,” his teacher told him. “You are too attached to food, wealth, things, and that sound. It would be better if you died. That would solve the problem.”
The next time Mamiya appeared before his teacher he was again asked what he had to show regarding the sound of one hand. Mamiya at once fell over as if he were dead.
“You are dead all right,” observed the teacher. “But how about that sound?”
“I haven’t solved that yet,” replied Mamiya, looking up.
“Dead men do not speak,” said the teacher. “Get out!”

The First Principle

When one goes to Obaku temple in Kyoto he sees carved over the gate the words “The First Principle.”
The letters are unusually large, and those who appreciate calligraphy always admire them as being a masterpiece. They were drawn by Kosen two hundred years ago.
When the master drew them he did so on paper, from which workmen made the larger carving in wood. As Kosen sketched the letters a bold pupil was with him who had made several gallons of ink for the calligraphy and who never failed to criticize his master’s work.
“That is not good,” he told Kosen after the first effort.
“How is that one?”
“Poor. Worse than before,” pronounced the pupil.
Kosen patiently wrote one sheet after another until eighty-four First Principles had been accumulated, still without the approval of the pupil.
Then, when the young man stepped outside for a few moments, Kosen thought: “Now is my chance to escape his keen eye,” and he wrote hurriedly, with a mind free from distraction. “The First Principle.”
“A masterpiece,” pronounced the pupil.

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 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.

The Giver Should Be Thankful

While Seietsu was the master of Engaku in Kamakura he required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umeza Seibei a merchant of Edo, decided to donate five hundred pieces of gold called ryo toward the construction of a more commodious school. This money he brought to the teacher.
Seisetsu said: “All right. I will take it.”
Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but he was dissatisfied with the attitude of the teacher. One might live a whole year on three ryo, and the merchant had not even been thanked for five hundred.
“In that sack are five hundred ryo,” hinted Umeza.
“You told me that before,” replied Seisetsu.
“Even if I am a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is a lot of money,” said Umezu.
“Do you want me to thank you for it?” asked Seisetsi.
“You ought to,” replied Umeza.
“Why should I?” inquired Seisetsu. “The giver should be thankful.”

The Last Will and Testament

Ikkyu, a famous Zen teacher of the Ashikaga era, was the son of the emperor. When he was very young, his mother left the palace and went to study Zen in a temple. In this way Prince Ikkyu also became a student. When this mother passed on, she left him a letter. It read:
To Ikkyu:
I have finished my work in this life and am now returning into Eternity. I wish you to become a good student and to realize your Buddha-nature. You will know if I am in hell and whether I am always with you or not. If you become a man who realizes that the Buddha and his follower Bodhidharma are your own servants, you may leave off studying and work for humanity. The Buddha preached for forty-nine years and in all that time found it not necessary to speak one word. You ought to know why. But if you don’t and yet wish to, avoid thinking fruitlessly.
Your Mother,
Not born, not dead.
September first.
P.S. The teaching of Buddha was mainly for the purpose of enlightening others. If you are dependent on any of its methods, you are naught but an ignorant insect. There are 80,000 books on Buddhism and if you should read all of them and still not see your own nature, you will not understand even this letter. This is my will and testament.

The Stingy Artist

Gessen was an artist monk. Before he would start a drawing or painting he always insisted upon being paid in advance, and his fees were high. He was known as the “Stingy Artist.”
A geisha once gave him a commission for a painting. “How much can you pay?” inquired Gessen.
“Whatever you charge,” replied the girl, “but I want you to do the work in front of me.”
So on a certain day Gessen was called by the geisha. She was holding a feast for her patron.
Gessen with fine brush work did the painting. When it was completed he asked the highest sum of his time.
He received his pay. Then the geisha turned to her patron, saying: “All this artist wants is money. His paintings are fine but his mind is dirty; money has caused it to become muddy. Drawn by such a filthy mind, his work is not fit to exhibit. It is just about good enough for one of my petticoats.”
Removing her skirt, she then asked Gessen to do another picture on the back of her petticoat.
“How much will you pay?” asked Gessen.
“Oh, any amount,” answered the girl.
Gessen named a fancy price, painted the picture in the manner requested, and went away.
It was learned later that Gessen had these reasons for desiring money:
A ravaging famine often visited his province. The rich would not help the poor, so Gessen had a secret warehouse, unknown to anyone, which he kept filled with grain, prepared for those emergencies.
From his village to the National Shrine the road was in very poor condition and many travelers suffered while traversing it. He desired to build a better road.
His teacher had passed away without realizing his wish to build a temple, and Gessen wished to complete this temple for him.
After Gessen had accomplished his three wishes he threw away his brushes and artist’s materials and, retiring to the mountains, never painted again.

The Subjugation of a Ghost

A young wife fell sick and was about to die. “I love you so much,” she told her husband, “I do not want to leave you. Do not go from me to any other woman. If you do, I will return as a ghost and cause you endless trouble.”
Soon the wife passed away. The husband respected her last wish for the first three months, but then he met another woman and fell in love with her. They became engaged to be married.
Immediately after the engagement a ghost appeared every night to the man, blaming him for not keeping his promise. The ghost was clever too. She told him exactly what had transpired between himself and his new sweetheart. Whenever he gave his fiancee a present, the ghost would describe it in detail. She would even repeat conversations, and it so annoyed the man that he could not sleep. Someone advised him to take his problem to a Zen master who lived close to the village. At length, in despair, the poor man went to him for help.
“Your former wife became a ghost and knows everything you do, ” commented the master. “Whatever you do or say, whatever you give your beloved, she knows. She must be a very wise ghost. Really you should admire such a ghost. The next time she appears, bargain with her. Tell her that she knows so much you can hide nothing from her, and that if she will answer you one question, you promise to break your engagement and remain single.”
“What is the question I must ask her?” inquired the man.
The master replied: “Take a large handful of soy beans and ask her exactly how many beans you hold in your hand. If she cannot tell you, you will know that she is only a figment of your imagination and will trouble you no longer.”
The next night, when the ghost appeared the man flattered her and told her that she knew everything.
“Indeed,” replied the ghost, “and I know you went to see that Zen master today.”
“And since you know so much,” demanded the man, “tell me how many beans I hold in this hand!”
There was no longer any ghost to answer the question.

The Taste of Banzo’s Sword

Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.
So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. “You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?” asked Banzo. “You cannot fulfill the requirements.”
“But if I work hard, how many years will it take to become a master?” persisted the youth.
“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo.
“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”
“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented.
“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro. “If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”
“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.
“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”
“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”
“Very well,” declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, “I agree.”
Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship.
Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.
But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.
The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.
After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword.
He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.

The Thief Who Became a Disciple

One evening as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding either his money or his life.
Shichiri told him: “Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer.” Then he resumed his recitation.
A little while afterwards he stopped and called: “Don’t take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow.”
The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave. “Thank a person when you receive a gift,” Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off.
A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, among others, the offense against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said: “This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him the money and he thanked me for it.”
After he had finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.

The Tunnel

Zenkai, the son of a samurai, journeyed to Edo and there became the retainer of a high official. He fell in love with the official’s wife and was discovered. In self-defense, he slew the official. Then he ran away with the wife.
Both of them later became thieves. But the woman was so greedy that Zenkai grew disgusted. Finally, leaving her, he journeyed far away to the province of Buzen, where he became a wandering mendicant.
To atone for his past, Zenkai resolved to accomplish some good deed in his lifetime. Knowing of a dangerous road over a cliff that had caused the death and injury of many persons, he resolved to cut a tunnel through the mountain there.
Begging food in the daytime, Zenkai worked at night digging his tunnel. When thirty years had gone by, the tunnel was 2,280 feet long, 20 feet high, and 30 feet wide.
Two years before the work was completed, the son of the official he had slain, who was a skillful swordsman, found Zenkai out and came to kill him in revenge.
“I will give you my life willingly,” said Zenkai. “Only let me finish this work. On the day it is completed, then you may kill me.”
So the son awaited the day. Several months passed and Zenkai kept on digging. The son grew tired of doing nothing and began to help with the digging. After he had helped for more than a year, he came to admire Zenkai’s strong will and character.
At last the tunnel was completed and the people could use it and travel in safety.
“Now cut off my head,” said Zenkai. “My work is done.”
“How can I cut off my own teacher’s head?” asked the younger man with tears in his eyes.

The Voice of Happiness

After Bankei had passed away, a blind man who lived near the master’s temple told a friend:
“Since I am blind, I cannot watch a person’s face, so I must judge his character by the sound of his voice. Ordinarily when I hear someone congratulate another upon his happiness or success, I also hear a secret tone of envy. When condolence is expressed for the misfortune of another, I hear pleasure and satisfaction, as if the one condoling was really glad there was something left to gain in his own world.
“In all my experience, however, Bankei’s voice was always sincere. Whenever he expressed happiness, I heard nothing but happiness, and whenever he expressed sorrow, sorrow was all I heard.”

True Reformation

Ryokan devoted his life to the study of Zen. One day he heard that his nephew, despite the admonitions of relatives, was spending his money on a courtesan. Inasmuch as the nephew had taken Ryokan’s place in managing the family estate and the property was in danger of being dissipated, the relatives asked Ryokan to do something about it.
Ryokan had to travel a long way to visit his nephew, whom he had not seen for many years. The nephew seemed pleased to meet his uncle again and invited him to remain overnight.
All night Ryokan sat in meditation. As he was departing in the morning he said to the young man: “I must be getting old, my hand shakes so. Will you help me tie the string of my straw sandal?”
The nephew helped him willingly. “Thank you,” finished Ryokan, “you see, a man becomes older and feebler day by day. Take good care of yourself.” Then Ryokan left, never mentioning a word about the courtesan or the complaints of the relatives. But, from that morning on, the dissipations of the nephew ended.

Zen Dialogue

Zen teachers train their young pupils to express themselves. Two Zen temples each had a child protégé. One child, going to obtain vegetables each morning, would meet the other on the way.
“Where are you going?” asked the one.
“I am going wherever my feet go,” the other responded.
This reply puzzled the first child who went to his teacher for help. “Tomorrow morning,” the teacher told him, “when you meet that little fellow, ask him the same question. He will give you the same answer, and then you ask him: ‘Suppose you have no feet, then where are you going?’ That will fix him.”
The children met again the following morning.
“Where are you going?” asked the first child.
“I am going wherever the wind blows,” answered the other.
This again nonplussed the youngster, who took his defeat to his teacher.
“Ask him where he is going if there is no wind,” suggested the teacher.
The next day the children met a third time.
“Where are you going?” asked the first child.
“I am going to the market to buy vegetables,” the other replied.


Retrieved 2019, from

Cloth Dispute

Two men were arguing over a piece of cloth, each claiming they owned it. The Mayor noticed this and asked them about it. After hearing their sides of the story, he told his assistants to cut the cloth in half, and distribute it equally among the men. Then after each man left with his share, the Mayor ordered his assistants to follow them. The assistants later came back and told the Mayor that one man was joyous, while the other man was upset. This prompted the Mayor to arrest the joyous man and put him on trial. The man eventually admitted that the cloth was not his.

The Measurements

A man from Cheng wanted to buy a new pair of shoes. He measured his feet first, and left the measurements in his chair. When he arrived at the marketplace, he noticed that he had forgotten the measurements. So he went home to get them. And when he got back, the marketplace was closed. He told someone about what had happened, and the person said, “Why didn’t you just try the shoes with your own feet?” The man replied, “I have confidence in my measurements, but not in my own feet.”


Duke Mu of Ch’in said to the horse expert Po Lo, “You’re now advanced in years. Do you know someone I can hire as your eventual replacement?”
Po Lo replied, “A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. Then there’s the truly great horse–the type that can raise no dust and leave no tracks. Spotting a horse like that is something else altogether–aomething evasive and fleeting, elusive as thin air. My sons can identify a good horse–but not a truly great one. I know of one person who can pick horses the way I do: my friend Chiu-fang Kao, who works as a fuel and vegetable merchant.”
Duke Mu then hired Chiu-fang Kao to find a horse. Three months later, he told the Duke that he had found one, and that it was in Sha-ch’iu. When the Duke asked him what kind of horse it was, he responded, “Oh, it’s a brown mare.” But when someone was sent to go get it, the animal turned out to be a black stallion!
Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo, “Your friend can’t even tell if a horse is male or female, or if it’s dark or light. What can he possibly know about telling a great horse from a good one?” Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. “Has he really advanced ot such a level? He must be my superior. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details. Intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees only what ought to be examined. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses.”
The horse turned out to be a truly great one.

Lieh Tzu
Another time, Lieh Tzu was living in extreme poverty in Cheng. This prompted a stranger to tell Governor, “This man lives in your state, and he is a scholar who possesses the Way–and yet, he is dirt poor. When people see that, they might think you have no liking for scholars.” Upon hearing this, the Governor sent Lieh Tzu an official allowance of grain. Lieh Tzu, however, bowed to the messengers and declined the gift. This prompted his wife to complain. “I thought the wife and family of a man of the Way are supposed to live a life of ease and pleasure. And here you are, hungry, and declining grain sent by the Governor. I suppose that is what you consider to be ‘Destiny!'” Lieh Tzu smiled and replied, “The Minister know nothing about me. He sent me the grain simply because someone else suggested he should. He could’ve just as easily punished me becasue of someone else’s suggestion.” Later, the people of Cheng rebelled against Governor Yang, killing him and most of his allies in the state. Lieh Tzu was not attacked, being that he was a poor scholar who had no alliance with the Governor.

You’re Fired. You’re Hired

Governor Meng Sun went for a hunt and caught a fawn. He ordered his assistant Ch’in Hsi Pa to bring it back to his palace. But as the latter took it back, the mother deer continuously followed along and wept. Ch’in Hsi Pa found this so unbearable, that he returned the fawn to its mother. When the Governor found out about this, he fired Ch’in Hsi Pa. A few months later, however, he rehired him and made him tutor to his son. This prompted someone say, “Your Highness blamed him earlier, and now you have called him back to tutor your own son.” The Governor replied, “This man could not bear the ruin of a fawn. So how could he possibly bear the ruin of my son?”


The Duke of Pai was obsessed with getting revenge on the men of Cheng who killed his father. One day, he leaned on his horse-prodding stick without realizing that it was upside down. It punctured his cheek and caused a lot of bleeding–and yet, he didn’t even notice. The men of Cheng heard about the incident and remarked, “He’s unaware of his own face. Who knows what else he’s unaware of?”

Two Sons

Mr. Shih of Lu had two sons: a scholar and a soldier. Both occupied prestigious positions. The scholar tutored princes in Ch’i, while the soldier headed the military in Ch’u. Mr. Meng also also had one son who was a scholar, and another who was a soldier. They, however, were poor. Mr. Meng asked Mr. Chih’s sons how they attained their success, and they readily gave him the desired information. Then Mr. Meng’s son the scholar attempted to find employment with the governor of another state. The governor was offended, saying, “We constantly face the threat of war in my state–and now you want me to focus on promoting benevolence and righteousness, instead of maintaining a strong military!” He punished the man for his suggestion. Meanwhile, Mr. Meng’s son the soldier offered his services in another state. the leader there told him, “I run a small state surrounded by powerful ones. We can only survive by serving the larger states. If I build up an army here, we will surely be destroyed by a more powerful army. And when you leave here, you might join their military and attack me.” He was also punished for the suggestion.

Duke Wen

Duke Wen of Chin put an army into the field with the intention of attacking the Duke of Wei. Observing this, Tzu Ch’u threw his head back and laughed aloud. When he was asked why he was laughing, Tzu Ch’u replied, “I was thinking of the experience of a neighbor of mine, who was escorting his wife on a visit to her own family. On the way, he started talking to an extremely attractive woman tending silkworms. Happening to look up, what should he see but his own wife also receiving the attentions of an admirer! It was the recollection of this incident that made me laugh.”
The Duke saw the point, and without delay turned home with his army. Before he got back, an invading force had already crossed his northern frontier!
When we focus on our own desires and don’t see the desires of others, we might find ourselves in a similar situation.


Ch’i Yung could spot a robber just by looking at his eyes. The Marquis of Chin hired him to find robbers–after inspecting thousands of them, he never missed a single one.
The Marquis told Wen Tzu of Chao about him, saying, “My state used to be infested with robbers. I have a man who’s singlehandedly eliminating them. Because of him, I don’t need police.”
The other replied, “If you rely on a detective to catch robbers, you’ll never get rid of them altogether. But someone will get rid of Ch’i Yung.”
Later, a band of robbers got together and did in fact kill Ch’i Yung. The Marquis of Chin was greatly alarmed, and immediately sent for Wen Tzu. “You were right. Ch’i Yung is dead. What should I do now to catch robbers?” “In Chou,” replied Wen Tzu, “we have a proverb: ‘Search not the ocean-depths for fish: calamity comes upon those who pry into hidden mysteries.’ If you want to be quit of robbers, the best thing your Highness can do is to promote the worthy to office. Let them instruct and enlighten their sovereign on the one hand, and reform the masses below them on the other. If once the people acquire a sense of shame, you will not find them turning into robbers.”
The Marquis then appointed Sui Hui to be Prime Minister, and all the robbers fled to the Ch’in State.

New Year’s Pigeons

Every New Year’s Day, the good people of Han-Tan gave their Governor Chien Tzu pigoens. And he, pleased by that, rewarded the donors. A stranger asked Chien Tzu about the the meaning of the custom, and the latter explained: “We release living creatures on New Year’s Day as a sign of our benevolence.” The stranger replied, “But the people try to catch as many pigeons as possible, and end up killing quite a few of them. If you really want to let the birds live, it would be best to stop people from catching them.”

The Salesman

A salesman from Ch’u was selling shields and halberds. In praising the shields, he said, “My shields are so solid that nothing can penetrate them.” Then, when presenting his halberds, he said, “My halberds are so sharp that they can penetrate anything.” In response to this, someone asked, “What would happen if you used your halberds to pierce through your shields?” The man had no reply. Indeed, impenetrable shields and absolutely penetrative halberds cannot both exist at the same time.

Lao Tzu and the Horse

There was a horse tied up in a narrow street–and it kicked every person that walked near it. Nobody knew what to do, and when they saw Lao Tzu approaching, they watched with curiosity to see how he would handle the situation. Lao Tzu spotted the horse, paused for a second to deliberate, and then turned around and walked down another street.

Heaven and Hell

One day, an angel came up to a man and said, “Good man, today I will grant you a wish. I know that you love traveling–and so, I will take you to any two places you want.”
The man, eager to see somewhere truly unique, said, “I want to see Heaven and Hell.”
The angel then showed the man Hell. The man looked, and saw rows of people seated near a large table of food. But everyone had meter long chopsticks, and the people, unable to feed themselves, looked emaciated and starving.
Then the angel took the man to heaven. The man was surprised to see a very similar scene, with people seated near a table packed with food, and holding meter long chopsticks. This time, however, the people looked healthy and robust, and used their own chopsticks to feed their neighbors on the other side of the table.

Critiquing the Writing

A well-known government official and scholar was assigned to govern a very primitive area, where the region’s natives lived side-by-side with new immigrants.
Shortly after the official arrived there, a young native man from the area approached him and asked him to look at some of his writings. The official looked them over and expressed his approval, even though the work was not particularly great, and then offered some advice.
Greatly elated and appreciative, the young man thanked him and left.
An assistant to the official had also read the work, and when the young man left, he remarked to the official, “That work was nothing special, so why did you praise it?”
The official replied, “We must take into account the fact that the young man is a native of this very primitive region–his family is probably all illiterate, and he surely had to go to great lengths to even learn to read and write. And he showed a lot of poise by presenting his work to me. It wouldn’t be suitable for me to judge so harshly, and start off with all criticism. With my encouragement and suggestions, he will no doubt continue his studies with a pure heart, and his example will also influence the other natives of this village to learn. And this can only strengthen the community.
“So why I should severely criticize, when just being appreciative of the good points can benefit so much, and can also make my suggestions be accepted?”

Escape Plan

A ruler’s servant broke the law, and planned to escape to a nearby state.
His friend asked him, “What makes you think you will be safe in that other state?”
The servant explained, “Once I went along with our ruler to that state. When they received us, the ruler of that state treated me very well, and even remarked that we were like brothers. He seemed like an honorable man, so I am going there to seek safety.”
The friend remarked, “Ah!–you are surely making a mistake! Think about it. We are in a strong state, and when you visited, their ruler noticed you were influential to our ruler. He treated you well merely in order to in order to be on friendly terms with our king, due to his fear of our state’s power.
“In other words, his motivation was his state’s interest, and not some special kinship he had with you. So if you go to him to seek safety, odds are he will have you arrested and taken back to our ruler.”

Niu Ch’ueh was traveling from the Highlands to Han-Tan, and while passing through a quiet and vacant area in Ou-Sha, encountered some criminals who robbed him of all he had–his clothes, equipment, carriage, and horses. But he kept on walking with a calm and unworried look on his face, as if nothing had happened.
The criminals, bewildered by his behavior, caught up to him and asked about it. Niu Ch’ueh said, “The superior person won’t risk his life for mere possessions. After all, possessions are simply meant to preserve life.”
The criminals discussed the matter. Recognizing the man’s wisdom, they figured that he’d end up becoming inflential, and have the Lord of Chao send the police after them. So they chased after him and killed him.
A man from Yen heard about this and told his clan, “If you run into criminals, don’t do what Niu Ch’ueh of the Highlands did.”
Days later, his brother was going to Ch’in, and as he arrived below the passes, he also encountered criminals. Thinking about what his brother told him, he tried to defend his possessions–and in doing so, he took a beating at the hands of the criminals. As they left with his possessions, he humbly pleaded to have them back.
The criminals angrily told him, “We let you live–and now you have the nerve to come after us like this? Your tracks will probably lead the authorities to us.”
So they killed the man, and injured some of his companions to boot.

Nour the Fire-Maker, and the Five Tribes

In ancient times, a man named Nour discovered how to make fire. He traveled to various places and shared his discovery to five tribes of people. They all had different reactions to him—some embraced his discovery, and others regarded him with aversion and fear. Eventually, Nour was killed by a group of people that were terrified of him and his fire.
A few centuries later, each of the five tribes had a unique viewpoint regarding Nour and fire making, which accounted for a major part of each tribe’s cultural and religious practices.
The first tribe had a priest class that kept fire-making a closely guarded secret, which gave them leverage over the other members of the tribe.
The second tribe did not care about fire making itself, but they worshipped the tools used to make fire.
The third tribe was entirely unconcerned about fire making, and instead worshipped Nour.
The fourth tribe had legendary tales about Nour and fire making ingrained in their folklore—and some people believed the legends, while other rejected them.
The fifth tribe knew how to make fire, and used that knowledge for a variety of purposes.
One day, a master and his disciples were traveling in the lands where these tribes lived. After observing the tribes, the disciples said to each other, “It is very surprising to see how all these tribes have such different views on Nour and fire making. Let us visit the tribes, and tell them the truth about fire making. The information will change their lifestyles dramatically.”
So the traveling master and disciples went to the first tribe—the one where fire was a closely guarded secret used among the priest class. After receiving a warm welcome by the tribe, they attended one of their fire making religious ceremonies headed by the priests. When the ceremony finished, one of the traveling disciples said, “I can duplicate the fire making that you regard as divine and restricted only to the priests. If I do this, will you admit that you have been wrong for all these years?” When the priests heard this, they immediately shouted out, “These travelers are heretics—seize them and take them away at once.”
The people immediately did as they said, and the travelers moved on to the second tribe—the one that worshipped fire-making tools. One of the traveling disciples announced to the tribe, “I come here to inform you that you are worshipping these tools, yet you are unaware that their use is simply to make fire.” The people heard this and responded, “We are hospitable people and welcome you to our land, but we must inform you that you are a stranger to our customs, and you do not understand what we are doing. Your statements are incorrect, and you are not acting in accordance with our religion. Hence, we will not listen to you.”
So the travelers went to the third tribe—the one that worshipped Nour. They observed the tribe’s various Nour statues and ceremonies. Later, they approached the tribe’s leaders and said, “The Nour that you worship is actually just a person like the rest of you. He discovered a fire making skill that you can learn and use.” The tribe leaders replied, “Even if that is true, such knowledge is reserved only for a select few like us, not for the entire community to know.” “But why not spread this knowledge to all?” the traveler replied. Upon hearing this, the tribe leaders replied, “You are unfamilar with our culture, and you are making sacrilegious statements. We have heard enough from you!”
So the travelers left, and went to the fourth tribe—the one where fire making and Nour were legends that some people believed and others didn’t. One of the travelers announced to the tribe, “The fire making stories and legends you speak of are indeed true, and I can show you how to make fire.” This announcement caused much division among the tribe. Among them, some people desired to learn how to make fire from the travelers, but were only concerned with using it to take advantage of others. They also did not learn to make fire properly because they were still fixated on their inaccurate legends about fire making. Another group of people said, “These travelers are duping us and trying to take advantage of us; and we will have nothing to do with them.” And another group of people said, “Whether these travelers speak the truth or not, we do not want to hear from them. We prefer to retain our current legends as they are, which forms the foundation of our culture and community.”
So the travelers left and went to the fifth tribe, where they used fire, and observed the people’s ways.
The travelers then said to their master, “What are we to make of all of this? We tried to teach the four other tribes to make fire the way this tribe does, but our efforts have gone in vain.”
The master replied, “Most people don’t really want to be taught—so you have to know the proper way to teach them. Although they have the capacity for learning, this is not enough. You have to teach them that there is something to learn. They imagine they are ready to learn, but they are really concerned with learning what they imagine is to be learned, and not what they first need to learn. Understand this, and then you will find the proper way to teach.”

The Search for the Tree

A learned man was in a storytelling mood, and began describing to several others about fruit from a special tree in India. He said, “Anyone who eats the fruit of that tree will have perpetual life and youth.”
A king heard this story and was intent on eating fruit from the tree. He sent his servant to India and told him, “Find that tree and its fruit, no matter how long it takes, or how difficult it is to find. I will support you by sending money.”
The servant followed his demand, and for years he searched high and wide throughout India for the tree—but alas, he hadn’t found it. And whenever he asked anyone about it, some people would just take him for a psychopath, while others toyed with him and said, “Yeah, you can find the tree in so-and-so region, and it is quite a sight,” and so on.
The man continued to search while the king sent him money for support, but eventually, the searcher decided that he had had enough, and decided to quit and go back to the king crying in frustration. On his way back, he met a shayk who noticed how sad he was, and asked, “What is the matter?”
The servant told the shayk about his unsuccessful quest to find the tree that would give perpetual life and youth, to which the shayk responded, “The way you are searching, the tree you seek is farther than far. Yet in actuality, it is as close to you as you are to yourself.
“You have searched for the appearance of such a tree, but have missed the actual essence of it. In fact, it is not necessarily a ‘tree,’ for sometimes it is the sun, sometimes it is the sea, and sometimes it is the clouds. It is the essence that is limitless and all encompassing. It is in you, too. Why search for one form or another? You will miss finding it, and instead find disappointment. Don’t pursue the name—pursue the source, and it shall be found.”

%d bloggers like this: