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Zen Tales

Right Move

The great Zen teacher, Benzei had many pupils. One day, one of them was caught stealing by his fellow-students and they reported him to Benzei. But he took no action against the boy.
A few days later the same boy was again caught stealing. And again Benzei did nothing. This angered the other students who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief. They threatened to leave en masse if the boy was allowed to stay.

The teacher called a meeting of the students. When they had assembled he said to them: “You are good boys who know what is right and what is wrong. If you leave you will have no trouble in joining some other school. But what about your brother who does not even know the difference between right and wrong? Who will teach him if I don’t? No, I cannot ask him to go even if it means losing all of you.”
Tears coursed down the cheeks of the boy who had stolen. He never stole again and in later life became renowned for his integrity.

Making a Difference

Ryokan was a Zen teacher of repute. One day a fisherman saw him walking on the beach soon after a storm. The storm had washed up thousands of starfish on the shore, and they were beginning to dry up. Soon all of them would be dead. Ryokan was picking up starfish and throwing them into the sea.
The fisherman caught up with the teacher and said, “Surely, you cannot hope to throw all these starfish back into the sea? They will die in their thousands here. I’ve seen it happen before. Your effort will make no difference.”
“It will to this one,” said Ryokan, throwing back another starfish into the sea.

Overcoming Anger

A Zen student said to his teacher, “ Master, I have an ungovernable temper. Help me get rid of it.”
“ You have something very strange,” said the teacher.
“Show it to me.”
“ Right now I cannot show it to you.”
“Why not?"
“ It arises suddenly.”
“ Then it cannot be your own true nature,” said the teacher, “if it were, you would be able to show it to me at any time. Why are you allowing something that is not yours to trouble your life?”
Thereafter whenever the student felt his temper rising he remembered his teacher’s words and
checked his anger. In time, he developed a calm and placid temperament.

Sleepy Teacher

A schoolteacher used to take a short nap every afternoon. When his pupils asked him why he did so, he said that he went to dreamland to meet ancient sages.
One extremely hot day some of the pupils fell asleep in the afternoon. When the school-teacher chided them, they said:
"We went to meet the sages in dreamland."
"What did they say?" demanded the teacher.
"We asked them if a school- teacher came there every afternoon, but they said they had seen no such person."

The End

A young student of Zen happened to break a precious vase belonging to his teacher. When he heard his teacher's footsteps, he quickly held the broken vase behind him. As the teacher walked up to him, he asked, "Why does one die, master?"

"It's natural," said the teacher. "Everything has a beginning and an end. Everything has just so long to live and then has to die."

The student held out the pieces of the broken vase and said, "The time for your vase to die had come."

When Truth Dawned

Ryokan, the Zen teacher, was requested by his sister-in-law to come to her house and talk to her son.

“He does no work, squanders his father’s money in wild parties and is neglecting the estate,” she complained. “If he does not reform, we will be ruined.”
Ryokan went to his brother’s house and met his nephew who was genuinely pleased to see him. The two of them had spent many happy hours together before Ryokan had turned to Zen and entered the monastery. The young man knew why his uncle had come and braced himself for the scolding he was sure he would receive. But Ryokan said not a word in rebuke, the whole day. The next morning when it was time for him to go, he put on his garments and then said to his nephew: “Will you help me tie the thongs of my sandals? My hands shake and I cannot do it.”
His nephew helped him willingly.

“Thank you,” said Ryokan. “A man becomes older and feebler day by day. You remember how strong and robust I used to be?”

“ I do,” said his nephew, thoughtfully. “ I do indeed remember how you used to be.”
It was the moment of truth for him. He suddenly realized that his mother and all those who had looked after him had become old and that it was now his turn to look after them and to take on the responsibilities of the household and the community.
He gave up his dissolute life forever.

A Handful of Answers

A young student of Zen was going to the market to buy vegetables for the monastery where he was studying. On the way he met a student from another monastery.
“Where are you going?” asked the first student.
“Wherever my legs take me,” replied the other.
The first student pondered over the answer as he was sure it had some deep significance. When he returned to the monastery, he reported the conversation to his teacher, who said: “You should have asked him what he would do if he had no legs.”
The next day the student was thrilled to see the same boy coming towards him.
“Where are you going?” he asked and without waiting for a reply continued, “Wherever your legs take you, I suppose. Well, let me ask you . . .”
“You’re mistaken,” interrupted the other boy. “Today I’m going wherever the wind blows.”
This answer so confused the first boy that he could not think of anything to say.
When he reported the matter to his teacher, the old man said: “You should have asked him what he would do if there were no wind.”
Some days later the student saw the boy in the market again and rushed to confront him, confident that this time he would have the last word.
“Where are you going?” he asked. “Wherever your legs take you or wherever the wind blows? Well, let me ask you . . . . ”
“No, no,” interrupted the boy. “Today I’m going to buy vegetables.”

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