Zen Koans

 Guanyin_00From: Zen Koans by Venerable Gyomay Kubose.

The Flag

Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said: “The flag is moving.”

The other said: “The wind is moving.”

The Sixth Patriarch Hui Neng happened to be passing by. He told them: “Not the wind, not the flag; mind is moving.

A Philosopher Asks Buddha

A philosopher asked Buddha: “Without words, without silence, will you tell me the truth?” The Buddha sat quietly. The philosopher then bowed and thanked the Buddha, saying, “With your loving kindness I have cleared away my delusions and entered the true path.” After the philosopher had gone, Ananda asked Buddha what the philosopher had attained. The Buddha commented, “A good horse runs even at the shadow of the whip.”

Where to Meet after Death

Dogo paid a visit to his sick fellow monk, Ungan. “Where can I see you again if you die and leave only your corpse?” Dogo asked. “I will meet you where nothing dies,” Ungan replied. Dogo criticized his response saying, “What you should have said is that there is no place where nothing is born and nothing dies and that we need not see each other at all.”

The Short Stick

Shuzan held out a short stick and said, “If you call this a short stick, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short stick, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?”

Bells and Robes

Zen Master Unmon said: “The world is vast and wide. Why do you put on your robes at the sound of a bell?”

Bodhidharma and the Emperor Wu

Emperor Wu of China was a very benevolent Buddhist. He built many temples and monasteries, educated many monks, and performed countless philanthropic deeds in the name of Buddhism. He asked the great teacher Bodhidharma, “What merit is there in my good works?” Bodhidharma replied, “None whatsoever.” The Emperor then asked, “What is the Primal meaning of Holy Reality?” Bodhidharma answered, “Emptiness, not holiness.” The Emperor then queried, “Who, then, is this confronting me?” “I do not know,” was Bodhidharma’s reply. Since the Emperor did not understand, Bodhidharma left his kingdom.

Returning to the Ordinary World

A monk asked Kegon, “How does an enlightened one return to the ordinary world?” Kegon replied, “A broken mirror never reflects again; fallen flowers never go back to the old branches.”

Everything is Best

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 Enters 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?”

Jizo’s Buddhism

One day, Jizo received one of Hofuku’s disciples and asked him, “How does your teacher instruct you?” “My teacher instructs me to shut my eyes and see no evil thing; to cover my ears and hear no evil sound; to stop my mind-activities and form no wrong ideas,” the monk replied. “I do not ask you to shut your eyes,” Jizo said, “but you do not see a thing. I do not ask you to cover your ears, but you do not hear a sound. I do not ask you to cease your mind-activities, but you do not form any idea at all.”

No Cold and Heat

A monk asked Tozan, “How can we escape the cold and heat?” Tozan replied, “Why not go where there is no cold and heat?” “Is there such a place?” the monk asked. Tozan commented, “When cold, be thoroughly cold; when hot, be hot through and through.

Joshu’s Mu

Joshu (A.D. 778-897) was a famous Chinese Zen Master who lived in Joshu, the province from which he took his name. One day a troubled monk approached him, intending to ask the Master for guidance. A dog walked by. The monk asked Joshu, “Has that dog a Buddha-nature or not?” The monk had barely completed his question when Joshu shouted: “MU!”

Zen Koan Mumonkan #12

Every day Zuigan used to call out to himself, “Master!” and then he answered himself, “Yes, Sir!” And he added, “Awake, Awake!” and then answered, “Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!”

“From now onwards, do not be deceived by others!” “No, Sir! I will not, Sir!”


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