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Collection of Ch’an stories


Zen koan: “What is the sound of one hand?”

One of the most famous stories about Bodhidharma is that


the seeker Huike (486-593) patiently stood deep in the snow
outside the old master’s cave for several days, yearning for

Japanese Zen master Oda Sesso (1901-66), abbot of Daitokuji

teachings. He finally hacked off his own left forearm and

monastery, warned, “There is little to choose between a man

presented it as a demonstration of his sincere aspiration for

lying in the ditch heavily drunk on liquor, and a man heavily

enlightenment. In response, Bodhidharma told Huike: “This

drunk on his own ‘enlightenment’!”

enlightenment is not to be sought through another.” Huike
begged to have his agitated self or mind pacified. The sage


retorted, “Show me your self and I will pacify it.” Huike
said “I’ve sought it many years but can’t get hold of it.”

The Japanese poet, calligrapher and benefactor to the poor,

Bodhidharma then declared: “There! It is pacified once and

Master Ryokan (1758-1831), lived austerely and simply in a

for all!” Upon hearing this, Huike was awakened beyond the

little hut below a mountain. One evening a thief visited the

ego-self. Huike was later designated the “second Patriarch”

hut only to find nothing there to steal. So he went off, but

of a “Chan School”.

Ryokan caught up with him: “You may have come a long
way to visit me, and you should not return empty handed.

Now we know where Master Hakuin (1768) got his famous

Please take my clothes as a gift.” The bewildered thief took


p52-55-Collection of Ch’an stories.indd 52

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Promise that you will not see any other women once I die. On the night that they were engaged to be married. Ryokan sat naked. Bodhidharma was regarded as the first Ch’an Patriarch.” upset him so badly that he couldn’t sleep at all. word for word. “Poor fellow. and Bodhidharma replied.indd 53 2014/2/20 9:06:47 . It is said that Emperor Wu asked Bodhidharma about the highest meaning of noble Truth. “Vast emptiness. even to the wise man does nothing. BANISHING A GHOST The wife of a man became very sick. She blamed him for not THE WISE MAN keeping the promise.the clothes in disbelieve. “I love you so much! I don’t want to leave you. He prefer to relentlessly suck on the finger! came from south India to south China around 527 CE and visited Emperor Liang Wu-di. the husband did avoid other women. “The transpired between him and his fiancee that day. founder of the Liang dynasty at Nanjing and became one of Buddhism’s greatest all-time patrons in China. The ghost would remind him of everything that Daoxin (580-651). then. and I don’t want you to betray me. or I will come back to haunt you. is standing before me?” “I don’t know. The proud Emperor Wu then asked the mysterious Indian sage how much karmic merit he. but then he met someone and fell in love.” For several months after her death. Bodhidharma was quite blunt: “No merit whatever!” And he left the region. watching the THE MOON OF ENLIGHTENMENT moon. ordaining monks. “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon!” Zen masters have often spoken of Enlightenment as like the moon shining brightly in the dark sky. and every night thereafter she returned to taunt him. while the Zen Buddhist PURE NOTHING teachings are like a finger pointing up toward the moon. the emperor. the 4th Chinese Chan Patriarch said. Too many people.” he mused. sponsoring translations and copies of scriptures and making Buddhist artimages. instead of gazing at the great moon.” said Bodhidharma. however. 53 p52-55-Collection of Ch’an stories.” “Who. she said to him. had accumulated by building monasteries. It up. their conversations. while the fool is always tying himself point of repeating. On her deathbed. the ghost of his former wife appeared to him. there is no noble Truth.

“Your head must be very heavy!” HELP The famous “rogue” Rinzai Zen Master Ikkyu (d. later the abbot of Japan’s Daitokuji monastery. Nan-in served near the village.” “Ask your question. Zen master Nan-in received a alive!” The teacher told him. How can I show you That night the ghost returned. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware. The man responded just as the Zen unless you first empty your mind?” master had advised.” Said the teacher matter-of-factly. “You know that I can hide nothing from you. so that I would have to say that the stone is inside my mind. the student returned to his teacher. 885-958) interrupted an argument among some monks concerning the relationship of mind to reality by posing them a question: “Over there is a large boulder.” Quipped Fayan.1481). so peaceful. Nan-in kept on pouring the tea.” the man said. No more will go ghost. continued to speak. or Feedback: “The ghost comes from the man’s own mind.” created it. you are also too full of your own opinions and speculations. and then.” the master tea. “Tell me exactly how many beans there are in my hand. Do you say that it is inside or outside your mind?” One of the monks replied. “It will pass.indd 54 2014/2/20 9:07:14 . The “She remembers every detail of what I say and do. But in the Zen School we don’t have a single thing!” 54 p52-55-Collection of Ch’an stories. He my legs ache. “You fool! It is overfull. but I will tell you what to do the next time you see it. “Like this cup. The man scooped up a handful of beans chewing the menu to actually eating the food!” from a large bag on the floor. But instead MIND Chan master Fayan (Fa-yen.” in!” Nan-in replied. It is his own guilt that came back to haunt him.” AN OVERFLOWING CUP OF TEA A week later. It knows professor watched the overflow until he could no longer everything!” The master smiled.Desperate. If you can AUTHENTICITY answer me one question.” EXPERIENCES At that moment the ghost disappeared and never returned. “This is a very clever ghost. “It is!” replied the man.” university professor who came to ask about Zen. so In the early 20th century. told a visitor: “I’d like to offer something to help you. I will break off the engagement and remain single for the rest of my life. most people prefer the ghost replied. “From the Buddhist viewpoint everything is an objectification of mind. or I’m repeatedly falling asleep. A student went to see his meditation teacher and said.” An old Zen saying: “In matters of religion. It’s terrible. while the man said upon hearing the man’s story. “It will pass. “You are such a wise ghost. “You should admire such a restrain himself. He poured his visitor’s cup full. he sought the advice of a Zen master who lived he only talked on and on about his own ideas. “My situation is horrible! I feel so distracted most of the time.

this is murdering the Buddha. “What is not the Buddha?” Another time his answer was. “I never knew him. “Wait until there is one — then I’ll tell you. I aim to become a Buddha. when asked “What is the Buddha?”—Nanyuan replied. 9th century) was asked by a monk.” Master Nanyue thereupon picked up a rough tile lying nearby and began to ~~~~ End ~~~~ vigorously rub it against a rock. Ninshitsu.indd 55 http://www. “Some are calculating came upon young Mazu who had been ardently spending all contributions received the past month.enlightened-spirituality.” “How is it possible to make a tile into a mirror?” asked Mazu. “What is my self?” Hsüan-sha retorted. “What would IMPRESSED BY THE MONKS you do with a self?” This same Master Xuansha once described the existential situation: “We are here as if immersed in water When Catholic missionary St. others are wondering his days sitting in meditation at a temple. near Kagoshima. “What is the Buddha?” He replied.” vacation and pasttimes. Said the master. a mentor to famous Chan master then all frogs are Buddhas!]”) Zhaozhou. “I want to attain of importance!” enlightenment.” SELF Master Xuansha (Hsüan-sha.” On a third occasion. and still others are thinking of Mazu. “What are you doing?” “I’m practicing meditation. he was graciously hosted in 1549 by the extraordinarily piteously we are extending our hands for water!” friendly master Ninshitsu of Fukusho-ji Soto Zen monastery.’” And one of Zen master Sengai’s (1751-1837) famous cartoonish Zen paintings shows a smiling frog sitting on a lily pad. “I want to make this tile into a mirror. Francis Xavier was touring head and shoulders underneath the great ocean. “What are they doing?” he asked One of Huineng’s supposed successors. Retorted Nanyue: “How is it possible to become a Buddha by doing meditation?… If you keep the Buddha seated. Master Nanyue. not to ‘attain enlightenment. Said Xavier saw monks meditating in great repose and dignified appearance. with the caption: “If p52-55-Collection of Ch’an stories. “What is the Buddha?” His considered response: “The Buddha!” When Nanyuan Huiyong (860-930) was likewise asked (it’s a very popular question in Chan tradition!). In short.” Modern-era Soto Zen master Shunryu Suzuki (1904-71) clarifies: “We practice zazen meditation to naturally express True Nature. no one here is doing anything “Why?” asked the master.html 禅 55 2014/2/20 9:07:47 . The master asked how to get better clothing. and yet how Japan. “What are you doing?” asked Mazu. Strolling through the temple grounds PRACTICE one day. The master laughed. was once asked.WHAT IS THE BUDDHA? by seated meditation one becomes a Buddha… [Implication: Touzi Daitung (914).