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.
To Be Silent
The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before
Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised
one another to observe seven days of silence.
On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun
auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing
dim one of the pupils could not help exclaiming to a servant:
"Fix those lamps."
The second pupil was surprised to hear the first one talk. "We
are not supposed to say a word," he remarked.
"You two are stupid. Why did you talk?" asked the third.
"I am the only one who has not talked," concluded the fourth
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72. The Blockhead Lord
Two Zen teachers, Daigu and Gudo, were invited to visit a lord.
Upon arriving, Gudo said to the lord: "You are wise by nature
and have an inborn ability to learn Zen."
"Nonsense," said Daigu. "Why do you flatter thi blockhead? He
may be a lord, but he doesn't know anything of Zen."
So, instead of building a temple for Gudo, the lord built it
for Daigu and studied Zen with him.
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73. Ten Successors
Zen pupils take a vow that even if they are killed by their
teacher, they intend to learn Zen. Usually they cut a finger
and seal their resolution with blood. In time the vow has become
a mere formality, and for this reason the pupil who died by
the hand of Ekido was made to appear a martyr.
Ekido had become a severe teacher. His pupils feared him. One
of them on duty, striking the gong to tell the time of day,
missed his beats when his eye was attracted by a beautiful girl
passing the temple gate.
At that moment Ekido, who was directly behind him, hit him with
a stick and the shock happened to kill him.
The pupil's guardian, hearing of the accident, went directly
to Ekido. Knowing that he was not to blame, he praised the master
for his severe teaching. Ekido's attitude was just the same
as if the pupil were still alive.
After this took place, he was able to produce under his guidance
more than ten enlightened successors, a very unusual number.
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74. True Reformation
Ryokan devoted his life to the study of Zen. One day he heard
that his nephew, despite the admonitions of relatives, was spending
his money on a courtesan. Inasmuch as the nephew had taken Ryokan's
place in managing the family estate and the property was in
danger of being dissipated, the relatives asked Ryokan to do
something about it.
Ryokan had to travel a long way to visit his nephew, whom he
had not seen for many years. The nephew seemed pleased to meet
his uncle again and invited him to remain overnight.
All night Ryokan sat in meditation. As he was departing in the
morning he said to the young man: "I must be getting old, my
hand shakes so. Will you help me tie the string of my straw
The nephew helped him willingly. "Thank you," finished Ryokan,
"you see, a man becomes older and feebler day by day. Take good
care of yourself." Then Ryokan left, never mentioning a word
about the courtesan or the complaints of the relatives. But,
from that morning on, the dissipations of the nephew ended.
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A Zen student came to Bankei and complained: "Master, I have
an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?"
"You have something very strange," replied Bankei. "Let me see
what you have."
"Just now I cannot show it to you," replied the other.
"When can you show it to me?" asked Bankei.
"It arises unexpectedly," replied the student.
"Then," concluded Bankei, "it must not be your own true nature.
If it were, you could show it to me at any time. When you were
born you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to
you. Think that over."
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76. The Stone Mind
Hogen, a Chinese Zen teacher, lived alone in a small temple
in the country. One day four traveling monks appeared and asked
if they might make a fire in his yard to warm themselves.
While they were building the fire, Hogen heard them arguing
about subjectivity and objectivity. He joined them and said:
"There is a big stone. Do you consider it to be inside or outside
One of the monks replied: "From the Buddhist viewpoint everything
is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone
is inside my mind."
"Your head must feel very heavy," observed Hogen, "if you are
carrying around a stone like that in your mind."
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77. No Attachment to Dust
Zengetsu, a Chinese master of the T'ang dynasty, wrote the following
advice for his pupils:
Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust
of the world is the way of a true Zen student.
When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself
to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another,
advise yourself not to emulate it.
Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a
noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive
than your true nature.
Poverty is your teasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.
A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may only be
guarding his wisdom carefully.
Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from
heaven of themselves as does rain or snow.
Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbors
discover you before you make yourself known to them.
A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as
rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.
To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes
but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.
Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.
Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations.
Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries,
there is no need to crave an immediate appreciation.
Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe.
Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.
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78. Real Prosperity
A rich man asked Sengai to write something for the continued
prosperity of his family so that it might be treasured from
generation to generation.
Sengai obtained a large sheet of paper and wrote: "Father dies,
son dies, grandson dies."
The rich man became angry. "I asked you to write something for
the happiness of my family! Why do you make such a joke as this?"
"No joke is intended," explained Sengai. "If before you yourself
die you son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your
grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would
be broken-hearted. If your family, generation after generation,
passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural
course of life. I call this real prosperity."
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79. Incense Burner
A woman of Nagasaki named Kame was one of the few makers of
incense burners in Japan. Such a burner is a work of art to
be used only in a tearoom or before a family shrine.
Kame, whose father before her had been such an artist, was fond
of drinking. She also smoked and associated with men most of
the time. Whenever she made a little money she gave a feast
inviting artists, poets, carpenters, workers, men of many vocations
and avocations. In their association she evolved her designs.
Kame was exceedingly slow in creating, but when her work was
finished it was always a masterpiece. Her burners were treasured
in homes whose womenfolk never drank, smoked, or associated
freely with men.
The mayor of Nagasaki once requested Kame to design an incense
burner for him. She delayed doing so until almost half a year
had passed. At that time the mayor, who had been promoted to
office in a distant city, visited her. He urged Kame to begin
work on his burner.
At last receiving the inspiration, Kame made the incense burner.
After it was completed she placed it upon a table. She looked
at it long and carefully. She smoked and drank before it as
if it were her own company. All day she observed it.
At last, picking up a hammer, Kame smashed it to bits. She saw
it was not the perfect creation her mind demanded.
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80. The Real Miracle
When Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest,
who believed in salvation through the repitition of the name
of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and
wanted to debate with him.
Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared,
but the fellow made such a disturbance that bankei stopped his
discourse and asked about the noise.
"The founder of our sect," boasted the priest, "had such miraculous
powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river,
his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher
wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such
a wonderful thing?"
Bankei replied lightly: "Perhaps your fox can perform that trick,
but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I
feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink."