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Posts from the ‘Classic Zen’ Category


Slippery Stone

Photo by Toshimasa Ishibashi

Photo by Toshimasa Ishibashi

There was a master called Sakito. He was also called Stonehead – partly because of his smoothly shaven head, and partly because he loved to sit in meditation on a large rock on the side of a mountain.

One day, a disciple came to Ma Tsu, another master, and said, “I shall go and challenge master Sakito.”

Ma Tsu replied, “Be careful. The path of the Stonehead is slippery.”

But the disciple waved a staff and said, “I carry the stick of an acrobat.”

The disciple made it to Sakito who was, as usual, sitting on his rock. He stood in front of Sakito, waved his stick in the air and gave a loud shout. Then he addressed Sakito, “Now tell me, what is the essence of what I have done?”

Sakito, who had barely moved or changed his expression, just said, “How sad, how sad.”

The disciple had no answer for this, so he left and went back to Ma Tsu and reported the entire incident.

Ma Tsu told the disciple, “Go back and do the same thing. Then, when he says, ‘how sad, how sad’, you start crying.”

So the disciple went back and did the exact same thing. But when he asked the question, Sakito put both hands on his face and started to cry.

The disciple was again left with no response, so he went back to Ma Tsu to report.

Ma Tsu smiled and said, “I told you. The path of the Stonehead is slippery.”


Then Have a Cup of Tea

photo courtesy of SheCat,

photo courtesy of SheCat,

One day, a travelling stranger came to visit the master Joshu.

Joshu said, “Stranger, have I ever met you before?”

“No, sir. This is the first time we have met,” replied the stranger.

“Then have a cup of tea,” said Joshu.

Joshu then turned to a monk beside him.

“Have I ever seen you before?” he asked.

“Yes, I have been in this monastery for three years,” replied the monk.

“Then have a cup of tea,” said Joshu.

The head monk was quite confused with this behavior. So he asked, “Master, why do you offer a cup of tea whether or not you have met the person before? Why do you even ask?”

“Head monk, are you here?” said Joshu.

“Of course, I am here,” said the head monk.

“Then have a cup of tea,” said Joshu.


Empty Your Cup

photo courtesy of patrick_george86, flickr

photo courtesy of patrick_george86, flickr

One day, a philosopher went to visit Master Nan-in to discuss zen with him. During the discussion, the philosopher would ask questions and as Nan-in began to answer, the philosopher would butt in with another question or would start sharing his own insights.

After this happened for two or three times, Nan-in took the teapot and started pouring tea into the philosopher’s cup (which was still full because he had kept talking).

The cup overflowed and the tea started spilling on the table and onto the floor.

The philosopher jumped up and said, “Stop it! The cup can take no more tea.”

Nan-in promptly stopped pouring and looked at the philosopher squarely. “The cup can take no more tea because it is full. Your head can take nothing from me because it is full of your own ideas.”

“If you would learn from me, sir, please empty your cup first.”

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