These koans, or
parables, were translated into English from a book called the Shaseki-shu
(Collection of Stone and Sand), written late in the thirteenth century
by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju (the "non-dweller"), and from anecdotes
of Zen monks taken from various books published in Japan around
the turn of the 20th century.
61. Gudo and
The emperor Goyozei was studying Zen under Gudo. He inquired:
"In Zen this very mind is Buddha. Is this correct?"
Gudo answered: "If I say yes, you will think that you understand
without understanding. If I say no, I would be contradicting
a fact which many understand quite well."
On another day the emperor asked Gudo: "Where does the enlightened
man go when he dies?"
Gudo answered: "I know not."
"Why don't you know?" asked the emperor.
"Because I have not died yet," replied Gudo.
The emperor hesitated to inquire further about these things
his mind could not grasp. So Gudo beat the floor with his hand
as if to awaken him, and the emperor was enlightened!
The emperor respected Zen and old Gudo more than ever after
his enlightenment, and he even permitted Gudo to wear his hat
in the palace in winter. When Gudo was over eighty he used to
fall asleep in the midst of his lecture, and the emperor would
quietly retire to another room so his beloved teacher might
enjoy the rest his aging body required.
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62. In the Hands of Destiny
A great Japanese warrior named Nobunaga decided to attack the
enemy although he had only one-tenth the number of men the opposition
commanded. He knew that he would win, but his soldiers were
On the way he stopped at a Shinto shrine and told his men: "After
I visit the shrine I will toss a coin. If heads comes, we will
win; if tails, we will lose. Destiny holds us in her hand."
Nobunaga entered the shrine and offered a silent prayer. He
came forth and tossed a coin. Heads appeared. His soldiers were
so eager to fight that they won their battle easily.
"No one can change the hand of destiny," his attendant told
him after the battle.
"Indeed not," said Nobunaga, showing a coin which had been doubled,
with heads facing either way.
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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."
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64. Kasan Sweat
Kasan was asked to officiate at the funeral of a provincial
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.
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65. 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 fiancée
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.
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66. 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
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67. What Are You Doing! What Are You Saying!
In modern times a great deal of nonsense is talked about masters
and disciples, and about the inheritance of a master's teaching
by favorite pupils, entitling them to pass the truth on to their
adherents. Of course Zen should be imparted in this way, from
heart to heart, and in the past it was really accomplished.
Silence and humility reigned rather than profession and assertion.
The one who received such a teaching kept the matter hidden
even after twenty years. Not until another discovered through
his own need that a real master was at hand was it learned hat
the teaching had been imparted, and even then the occasion arose
quite naturally and the teaching made its way in its own right.
Under no circumstances did the teacher even claim "I am the
successor of So-and-so." Such a claim would prove quite the
The Zen master Mu-nan had only one successor. His name was Shoju.
After Shoju had completed his study of Zen, Mu-nan called him
into his room. "I am getting old," he said, "and as far as I
know, Shoju, you are the only one who will carry on this teaching.
Here is a book. It has been passed down from master to master
for seven generations. I also have added many points according
to my understanding. The book is very valuable, and I am giving
it to you to represent your successorship."
"If the book is such an important thing, you had better keep
it," Shoju replied. "I received your Zen without writing and
am satisfied with it as it is."
"I know that," said Mu-nan. "Even so, this work has been carried
from master to master for seven generations, so you may keep
it as a symbol of having received the teaching. Here."
The two happened to be talking before a brazier. The instant
Shoju felt the book in his hands he thrust it into the flaming
coals. He had no lust for possessions.
Mu-nan, who never had been angry before, yelled: "What are you
Shoju shouted back: "What are you saying!"
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68. One Note of Zen
After Kakua visited the emperor he disappeared and no one knew
what became of him. He was the first Japanese to study Zen in
China, but since he showed nothing of it, save one note, he
is not remembered for having brought Zen into his country.
Kakua visited China and accepted the true teaching. He did not
travel while he was there. Meditating constantly, he lived on
a remote part of a mountain. Whenever people found him and asked
him to preach he would say a few words and then move to another
part of the mountain where he could be found less easily.
The emperor heard about Kakua when he returned to Japan and
asked him to preach Zen for his edification and that of his
Kakua stood before the emperor in silence. He then produced
a flute from the folds of his robe, and blew one short note.
Bowing politely, he disappeared.
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69. Eating the Blame
Circumstances arose one day which delayed preparation of the
dinner of a Soto Zen master, Fugai, and his followers. In haste
the cook went to the garden with his curved knife and cut off
the tops of green vegetables, chopped them together, and made
soup, unaware that in his haste he had included a part of a
snake in the vegetables.
The followers of Fugai thought they had never tasted such great
soup. But when the master himself found the snake's head in
his bowl, he summoned the cook. "What is this?" he demanded,
holding up the head of the snake.
"Oh, thank you, master," replied the cook, taking the morsel
and eating it quickly.
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70. The Most Valuable Thing in the World
Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: "What is
the most valuable thing in the world?"
The master replied: "The head of a dead cat."
"Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the
world?" inquired the student.
Sozan replied: "Because no one can name its price."