Zen’s stories are the ancient words and deeds of Zen masters, which have been passed through the ages, crossing the dynasties and cultures of forgotten peoples, originating with the Buddha himself.
The insights that these stories seeded, as time rolled on, flowered into invaluable instructions for those wanting to reach liberation.
Zen stories tend to be humorous, paradoxical, multi-layered, enigmatic, and written in a kind of rascally spirit. They’re tantalizing riddles that are sure to puzzle and captivate most anyone.
Zen can transform your sense of identity, resulting in far less stress and anxiety, a near-inability to be bored, and a distinct tendency to never take life all that seriously.
One might say that the essence of Zen consists in the realization that life is something of a great silly dream, and that accepting all aspects of the dream precisely as they are, at any given moment, is the only way to liberate oneself from the unnecessary suffering that most of us inflict upon ourselves by resisting various attributes of reality or calling them “wrong.”
To study Zen is to embark on a path of learning to stop resisting reality, and in doing so to free oneself from superfluous drama and the ceaseless ebb and flow of mental states.
To help you get there, we dug through old dusty books, half-forgotten. We sniffed ancient scrolls, in search of wisdom. We gathered the very best Zen stories from the Far East.
Savor these 7 parables that point to the ultimate non-insight.
Zen Story #1: The Pointer
The Zen teacher’s dog loved his evening romp with his master. The dog would bound ahead to fetch a stick, then run back, wag his tail, and wait for the next game. On this particular evening, the teacher invited one of his brightest students to join him – a boy so intelligent that he became troubled by the contradictions in Buddhist doctrine.
“You must understand,” said the teacher, “that words are only guideposts. Never let the words or symbols get in the way of truth. Here, I’ll show you.”
With that, the teacher called his happy dog.
“Fetch me the moon,” he said to his dog and pointed to the full moon.
“Where is my dog looking?” asked the teacher of the bright pupil.
“He’s looking at your finger.”
“Exactly. Don’t be like my dog. Don’t confuse the pointing finger with the thing that is being pointed at. All our Buddhist words are only guideposts. Every man fights his way through other men’s words to find his own truth.”
Zen Story #2: Flow Like a River
There is the story of a young martial arts student who was under the tutelage of a famous master.
One day, the master was watching a practice session in the courtyard. He realized that the presence of the other students was interfering with the young man’s attempts to perfect his technique.
The master could sense the young man’s frustration. He went up to the young man and tapped him on his shoulder.
“What’s the problem?” he inquired.
“I don’t know”, said the youth, with a strained expression.
“No matter how much I try, I am unable to execute the moves properly”.
“Before you can master the technique, you must understand harmony. Come with me, I will explain”, replied the master.
The teacher and student left the building and walked some distance into the woods until they came upon a stream. The master stood silently on the bank for several moments. Then he spoke.
“Look at the stream,” he said. “There are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is.”
The young man took the master’s advice to heart. Soon, he was barely noticing the other students around him. Nothing could come in his way of executing the most perfect moves.