Zen koans


    Head and tail

    A monk asked Kyuho,
    “What is the head?”
    Kyuho said,
    “Opening the eyes and not perceiving the dawn.”
    The monk said,
    “What is the tail?”
    Kyuho said,
    “Not sitting on a ten-thousand-year-old sitting place.”
    The monk said,
    “What if there is a head, but no tail?”
    Kyuho said,
    “After all, it is not valuable.”
    The monk said,
    “What if there is a tail, but no head?”
    Kyuho said,
    “Being complacent, yet having no power.”
    The monk said,
    “What if the head matches the tail?”
    Kyuho said,
    “The descendants will prosper, but it is not known in the room.”


    Bodhidharma vast and void

    Emperor Bu of Ryo asked Great Master Bodhidharma,
    “What is the highest meaning of the holy reality?”
    Bodhidharma replied,
    “Vast and void, no holiness.”
    The emperor said,
    “Who are you in front of me?”
    Bodhidharma said,
    “I don’t know.”
    The emperor did not match him.

    Finally, Bodhidharma crossed the Yangtse River and came to the Shorin Temple.
    There he sat for nine years, facing the wall.


    The best piece of meat

    One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, “Give me the best piece of meat you have.” “Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You can not find any piece of meat that is not the best.” At these words, Banzan was enlightened.


    Manjusri outside the gate

    One day as Manjusri stood outside the gate, the Buddha called to him, “Manjusri, Manjusri, why do you not enter?” Manjusri replied, “I do not see myself as outside. Why enter?”


    The Southern Monastery

    Sekiso lived and taught on the Southern Mountain, and Kankei lived and taught on the Northern Mountain. One day, a monk came from the Northern Monastery to the Southern Monastery in search of teaching. Read the rest of this entry »


    The girl came out of her meditation

    Once upon a time, Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, went to an assemblage of Buddhas. By the time he arrived, all had departed except for the Buddha Sakyamuni and one girl. She was seated in a place of highest honor, deep in meditation. Manjusri asked the Buddha how it was possible for a mere girl to attain a depth of mediation that even he could not attain. The Buddha said, “Bring her out of meditation and ask her yourself.” Read the rest of this entry »


    The real way is not difficult

    Joshu addressed an assembly of monks: “The Real Way is not difficult;, but it dislikes the Relative. If there is but little speech, it is about the Relative or it is about the Absolute. This old monk is not within the Absolute. Do you value this or not?” Read the rest of this entry »


    The Temple

    One day Hofuku said to his disciples, “When one passes behind the temple, he meets Chang and Li, but he does not see anyone in front of it. Why is this? Which of the two roads is better?” Read the rest of this entry »


    Lotus Blossoms and Leaves

    A monk asked Chimon, “Before the lotus blossom has emerged from the water, what is it?” Chimon said, “A lotus blossom.” The monk pursued, “After it has come out of the water, what is it?” Chimon replied, “Lotus leaves.”


    What is Buddha?

    A monk asked Dongshan Shouchu, “What is Buddha?” Dongshan said, “Three pounds of flax.”

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