Zen stories are ancient words of wisdom from Zen masters, originating with the Buddha himself. The stories are often amusing and humorous, but at the same time puzzling and paradoxical. The purpose of Zen stories is to not just entertain, but to make us think. A classic example of a Zen story is the story of Hui-Neng’s quest for enlightenment which we covered a few weeks ago.
Like Hui-Neng’s story, there are many other Zen stories which have been passed through generations. Here we have selected 3 Zen short stories with incredible depth. Some of you may be revisiting these stories and for some of you, these stories may be entirely new. As is common with all Zen stories, these stories have the capacity to captivate and confuse us at the same time. In other words, they are puzzles with some age-old wisdom.
3 Zen Short Stories with Incredible Depth
Zen Story #1: There is No Objective World
Once there was a Zen monk who practiced all the principles of Buddhism unwaveringly. He was the epitome of a Buddhist monk following the Noble Eightfold Path given by the Buddha.
Once when he was walking, he stepped on something which made a squishy sound. Upon closer inspection, he realized he had stepped on an egg-bearing frog.
This disturbed him to no end. According to the Buddhist Eightfold Path, he had to follow the precept of right conduct. This meant he was not supposed to himself or any other living being. He was filled with regret for stepping on the egg and for ending a frog’s life.
At night, he dreamt of hundred frogs demanding his life.
The next morning, the monk was still terribly tormented. But as he looked at the sight of the shattered egg, he found that what he had actually stepped on was an overripe eggplant.
At this moment, the feeling of regret and torment suddenly vanished and for the first time in his life, the monk understood the meaning of the Zen saying, ‘There is no objective world.’
Zen Story #2: Buddha and the Philosopher
Once a great philosopher went to Buddha and asked him, ‘Without words, without the wordless, will you tell me the truth?’
The Buddha kept his silence.
The philosopher bowed to the Buddha, thanked him, and said,’With your loving kindness, I’ve cleared away my delusions and entered the true path.’
Once the philosopher had left, one of Buddha’s favorite disciples asked him what he had attained.
The Buddha replied, ‘A good horse runs even at the shadow of a whip.’
Zen Story #3: The Pointing Finger
The Zen master’s dog loved his evening walks with his master. The dog would run to fetch a stick, then run back to the master, and wait eagerly for the next round.
One day, the Zen master decided to take one of his favorite disciples. He was the brightest of his disciples. He was intelligent and so rational that he was troubled by the contradictions in Buddhist doctrine.
‘You must understand,’ said the master, ‘that words are only guideposts. Never let the words or the symbols get in the way of truth. Here, I will show you.’
Having said that, the master called his dog.
‘Fetch me the moon,’ said the master and pointed to the full moon.
‘Where is my dog looking?’ asked the master to his bright disciple.
‘He’s looking at your finger,’ replied the boy.
‘Exactly. Don’t be like my dog,’ said the master, ‘Don’t confuse the pointing finger with the thing that is being pointed at. The Buddhist words are simply guideposts. Every man fights his way through other men’s words to find his own truth.’
Hope you enjoyed these stories. We’ll cover more such stories in the Zen Short Stories series soon. Stay tuned!