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Zen Sayings

If you try to aim for it,
you are turning away from it.


No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.


Water which is too pure has no fish.

Ts’ai Ken T’an


The quieter you become,
the more you are able to hear.


Sitting peacefully doing nothing
Spring comes
and the grass grows all by itself.


We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness
inside that holds whatever we want.

Lao Tzu



 Two monks were once traveling together down a muddy road.
A heavy rain was falling.  Coming around the bend,
they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash,
unable to cross the intersection.

"Come on, girl," said the first monk.  Lifting her
in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

The second monk did not speak again until that night
when they reached a lodging temple.  Then he no longer
could restrain himself.  "We monks don't go near females,"
he said.  "It is dangerous.  Why did you do that?"

"I left the girl there," the first monk said.
"Are you still carrying her?"

Te-shan was sitting outside doing zazen.  Lung-t'an
asked him why he didn't go back home.  Te-shan answered,
"Because it is dark."  Lung-t'an then lit a candle and handed
it to him.  As Te-shan was about to take it, Lung-t'an blew it out.
Te-shan had a sudden realization, and bowed.

Talking about Zen all the time is like
looking for fish tracks in a dry riverbed.



One day Chuang-tzu and a friend
were walking along a riverbank.

"How delightfully the fishes are
enjoying themselves in the water!"
Chuang-tzu exclaimed.

"You are not a fish," his friend said.
"How do you know whether or not
the fishes are enjoying themselves?"

"You are not me," Chuang-tzu said. 
"How do you know that I do not know
that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"



If you understand, things are just as they are;
if you do not understand, things are just as they are.

Learning Zen is a phenomenon of gold and dung.
Before you understand it, it's like gold; after you
understand it, it's like dung.

Zen master


Zen is not some kind of excitement but concentration on our usual everyday routine.

Shunryu Suzuki

From the pine tree,
learn of the pine tree,
and from the bamboo,
learn of the bamboo.


After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion
challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer.
The young man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he
hit a distant bull's eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his
second shot.  "There," he said to the old man, "see if you can match that!"

Undisturbed, the master did not draw his bow, but rather motioned
for the young archer to follow him up the mountain.  Curious about
the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him high into the
mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy
and shaky log.  Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady
and certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree
as a target, drew his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit.

"Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto the
safe ground.  Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless
and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step
out onto the log, no less shoot at a target.  "You have much skill with
your bow," the master said, sensing his challenger's predicament,
"but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the shot."


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Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they
noticed a scorpion that was drowning.  One monk immediately
scooped it up and set it upon the bank.  In the process he was
stung.  He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion
fell in.  The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung.  The
other monk asked him, "Friend, why do you continue to save the
scorpion when you know its nature is to sting?"

"Because," the monk replied, "to save it is my nature."

Before enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.
After enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.



Consider the trees which allow the birds to perch and fly away
without either inviting them to stay or desiring them
never to depart.  If your heart can be like this,
you will be near to the way.


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 your mind?"

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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Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one
master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.

Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha,
and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of
phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no
sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be

Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he
whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth
quite angry.

"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did
this anger come from?"


When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard
a conversation between a butcher and his customer.

"Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer.

"Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You
cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best."

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

True spiritual practice is not founded on attainment or on the miraculous, but on seeing life itself as a true miracle.  In the words of a Zen master,

   My magical power and miraculous gift:
   Drawing water and chopping wood.



No seed ever sees the flower.

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything;
it is open to everything.  In the beginner's mind there are
many possibilities, in the expert's mind there are few.

Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

In a small hut, Hakuin lived a quiet life devoted to monastic purity.
When the young unmarried daughter of the village grocer
became pregnant, she named Hakuin as the father.  Her outraged
parents went to Hakuin and charged him with the deed.
Hakuin simply said, "Is that so?"

When the child was born, once again the parents came to Hakuin.
They handed him the baby and demanded he take responsibility
for raising it.  Hakuin said, "Is that so?" and took the baby in his arms. 
Dutifully he began to look after the infant.

A year later, the young woman could bear it no longer.  She confessed
that the real father was a young man who worked in the
nearby fishmarket.  The parents went to Hakuin once more,
this time making deep apologies, and asked him to return the child.
Hakuin said only, "Is that so?" and gave the baby back to them.

traditional Zen Buddhist story


The fish trap exists because of the fish.  Once you've gotten the fish
you can forget the trap.  The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit.
Once you've gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare.  Words exist
because of their meaning.  Once you've got the meaning, you can forget
the words. Where can I find someone who has forgotten words
so I can talk with him or her?

Chuang Tzu


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You must have been warned against letting the golden hours slip by;
but some of them are golden only because we let them slip by.

James M. Barrie


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The story is told of one of the great patriarchs of the Zen tradition.  The tradition was that the begging bowl and robe are passed as the symbol of the passing of the heritage from one abbot to another.  This particular abbot did not have anybody in his lineage that he thought was worthy of inheriting his bowl and his mantle.  So he decided upon a test.  He announced that whoever could come up with the most appropriate couplet would be the inheritor of the bowl.  On the wall next to the dining hall poems began to appear.  One of the poems went like this:

The Dharma wipes the dust from the mirror.
The mind reflects Buddha nature.

Another one said:

Meditation cleanses the mirror
That the mind may see the teaching.

Another wrote up there—and this was a little closer:

If the mind is dusty, it matters not
How clear the mirror.

Finally, the cook, who had never sat in meditation, who had never visited the Master, wrote his own couplet on the wall, in response to those earlier poems.  The couplet went like this:

No Mind. No Mirror.
Where does all this talk of dirt come from?

He got the mantle and the bowl.

-related by Mike Young

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The ultimate standpoint of Zen is that we have been led astray through ignorance
to find a split in our own being, that there was from the very beginning no need for
a struggle between the finite and the infinite, that the peace we are seeking so
eagerly after has been there all the time.

D.T. Suzuki

Zen is about an active life, an involved life.  When we know our minds
well and the emotions that our thinking creates, we tend to see better
what our lives are about and what needs to be done, which is generally
just the next task under our nose.  Zen is about a life of action, not a life
of passively doing nothing.  But our actions must be based on reality.
When our actions are based on our false thought systems (which are
based on our conditioning), they are poorly based.  When we have seen
through the thought systems we can see what needs to be done.

Charlotte Joko Beck
Everyday Zen:  Love and Work 



Found online:

(Found online images come from a variety of unattributed
sources from various social media pages.  They're too nice
not to share!)


Alone in his car heading west, it's easy for Jason
to feel sorry for himself and mad at the world.  But
then he gives a ride to Hector and learns that life
isn't nearly as negative as we sometimes see it,
and that the prejudice and discrimination that
he's experiencing aren't unique to him--and aren't
impossible to overcome.  The friendship between
this young man and his 70-year-old passenger is
an inspiring story of love and dealing with
obstacles in our lives.    
Book - Kindle



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