Broken Koans and other Zen debris

Three people were walking on the road, and they saw a man standing on a hill.

"I wonder what that man is doing," one of them said, "perhaps he is waiting for someone."

"I'll bet he's looking for a cow that has strayed," said another.

"Or perhaps he is just enjoying the breeze," said the third.

So the three people went up the hill to the man, to find out.

"We're just curious," they said, "are you waiting for someone? Or are you perhaps looking for a cow that has strayed? Or are you just enjoying the breeze?"

"None of those," said the man. "Actually I was taking a leak in the bushes."


Hui Neng once approached a student who was sitting in meditation. "Why do you spend so much time sitting?" he asked. "Because I want to become a Buddha," the student replied.

At this, Hui Neng picked up a brick tile from the floor, and began rubbing it with his robe. "Why are you doing that?" asked the student. "Because I want to make a mirror," Hui Neng replied.

"But Master," said the student, "no amount of -- oh, wait, I get it! Very funny, very funny."

me, I think

So this policeman hears something moving around in the dark, and he goes over and there's this guy on his hands and knees on the darkest part of the sidewalk, peering around.

"What's the matter?" says the policeman.

"I can't find my keys," says the guy.

"Is this where you dropped them?" asks the policeman.

"No," says the guy, "I dropped them back there", and he gestures back at the lighted circle under the last streetlamp.

"Then why are you looking here??" says the policeman.

And the guy says "Mu!"


Pupil: Why did the Bodhidharma come from India to China?

Master: I have no idea. Why do people always ask me that?

me, I think

Pupil (concerned): Master! How did you get the bruise on your forehead?

Master (laughing): Turning too quickly, I hit my own head!

Pupil: Yeah, I hate when that happens.

a reader

Shuzan held out his short staff and said, "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?" Eating his rice, one monk said to the other, "He's always saying stuff like that."

a reader

Zen is like a finger pointing at the Moon; once you've seen the Moon, there is no longer any need for the finger. Unless you have to scratch yourself or something.

me, I think

A monk asked Joshu: "Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?" Joshu answered: "Moo."

a reader

A monk told Joshu: "I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me." Joshu asked: "Have you eaten your rice porridge?" The monk replied: "I have eaten." Joshu said: "Then you had better wash your bowl," and the monk replied "Okay."

a reader

A student attempted to write an app to interpret the I Ching, but the app did not work. Approaching the master, the student asked, "Does the PolyLine object have Buddha Nature?" And the master spoke with wisdom of RoundRects and filled regions. The student said: "Now I understand Bresenham's Algorithm."

At this, the master unplugged the student's computer.

a reader

Gutei raised his finger whenever he was asked a question about Zen. A boy attendant began to imitate him in this way. When anyone asked the boy what his master had preached about, the boy would raise his finger. Gutei heard about the boy's mischief. He seized him and cut off his finger. The boy cried and ran away.

a reader

What is the sound of two hands clapping?

a reader

The Bodhisattvas are great tricksters, Sacrificing their own purity to save all sentient beings. But their words only cloud the glass. Better they had kept their mouths closed.


Mind, body, feelings, and phenomena are empty. Yet undeniably Angelina Jolie is hot. When you can comprehend the emptiness of mind, body, and feeling, and the hotness of Angeline Jolie, Then the ten thousand things will pass through the gate.


Apple-Holding Zen

At a retreat in a mountain monastery run on the principles of shikantaza, one student was particularly sharp in his questioning of the roshi.

"You talk so much about sitting," the student said, "and how we just sit, and just sitting is all that matters, and is the expression of perfection and enlightenment and all. But why sitting? What is so special about sitting? Why do we just sit, instead of, I don't know, just holding an apple or something?"

The roshi took an apple from the bowl at his side and threw it at the questioner. Instinctively, the student put out his hand and caught it. At the slap of the apple against his palm, the student was enlightened. Or at least he shut up for awhile.


One afternoon a student said "Roshi, I don't really understand what's going on. I mean, we sit in zazen and we gassho to each other and everything, and Felicia got enlightened when the bottom fell out of her water-bucket, and Todd got enlightened when you popped him one with your staff, and people work on koans and get enlightened, but I've been doing this for two years now, and the koans don't make any sense, and I don't feel enlightened at all! Can you just tell me what's going on?"

"Well you see," Roshi replied, "for most people, and especially for most educated people like you and I, what we perceive and experience is heavily mediated, through language and concepts that are deeply ingrained in our ways of thinking and feeling. Our objective here is to induce in ourselves and in each other a psychological state that involves the unmediated experience of the world, because we believe that that state has certain desirable properties. It's impossible in general to reach that state through any particular form or method, since forms and methods are themselves examples of the mediators that we are trying to avoid. So we employ a variety of ad hoc means, some linguistic like koans and some non-linguistic like zazen, in hopes that for any given student one or more of our methods will, in whatever way, engender the condition of non-mediated experience that is our goal. And since even thinking in terms of mediators and goals tends to reinforce our undesirable dependency on concepts, we actively discourage exactly this kind of analytical discourse."

And the student was enlightened.


Not Dualistic

Three Zen students came out of a Dharma talk.

"What did you think of Roshi's talk today?" one of them asked. "When he talked about true and false practice, I thought that was kind of dualistic, wasn't it?"

"Ah," said the second, "but your even saying that is dualistic itself, don't you see?"

"Look who's talking," said the third. "I'm glad I'm not dualistic like you guys!"


The Core of the Teachings

We were enclosed in a wall made of one thousand wooden planks. One day our Teacher walked over, tore loose the 637th plank, and used it to smash down the wall. Then he went to lunch.

We were amazed! We took the 637th plank and stood it back up on end. "The 637th plank is the core of the Teachings!", we said, and we looked upon it in wonder and awe.

Now some of us are saying "No, no, it's not the plank itself that's important, it's the way that the Teacher held it. The Grip is the core of the Teachings!".

But the Teacher is still at lunch, so we can't ask him.


Zen students are with their masters at least ten years before they presume to teach others. Nan-in was visited by Tenno, who, having passed his apprenticeship, had become a teacher. The day happened to be rainy, so Tenno wore wooden clogs and carried an umbrella. After greeting him Nan-in remarked: "I suppose you left your wooden clogs in the vestibule. I want to know if your umbrella is on the right or left side of the clogs."

"Beats the hell out of me," Tenno replied without hesitation.

"Ah," said Nan-in, "Have some tea."

"Word," replied Tenno.


There was once a wise and venerated fish who preached about water. Water, he would say, surrounds and supports us. We are all in and of the water, and where there is nothing else there is water.

Fish came from all over the ocean to hear him teach. 'I have nothing to teach,' he said, 'only enjoy the water,' but they came anyway, and some of them began to understand the water, and some of them came to understand it fully, and were called awakened.

One day a fish came and said 'Teach me of the water'. The teacher said 'I have nothing to teach. The water is all around us, above and below, and it fills the spaces where nothing else is.'

The fish frowned thoughtfully. 'You mean this stuff?' he asked, and flicked a fin so that a wave of water lightly struck the teacher's face.

'Yes,' said the teacher, bowing his head and smiling in acknowledgement 'that is the water; I see you have attainment.'

'Oh,' said the fish, surprised, 'that's it?'

'That's it.'

'Oh, okay,' said the fish, 'nice weather we're having, eh?'"


We live surrounded by hills and trees and lakes and walls and sofas, and our great mistake is in thinking "We live surrounded by hills and trees and lakes and walls and sofas".


Before my initiation, walls were walls and sofas were sofas. When I was learning the truth, walls were no longer walls, and sofas were no longer sofas. But now I am enlightened, walls are once more walls, and sofas are once more sofas.

a reader

One day Will Rogers was talking to a Zen student at the boundary between the monastery and the Wild West. Each was leaning against the fence from his own side, and they were talking about things.

After awhile the Zen student, impressed with the humor and deep humanity he sensed in Will Rogers, said "I think you're not far from Buddahood".

And Will Rogers replied, "Yep, just the fence here between us."


Good fences make good Bodhisattvas.

reader Matthew Bliss