Dizang asked Xiushan, “Where do you come from?” Xiushan said, “From the South.” Dizang said, “How is Buddhism in the South these days?” Xiushan said, “There is extensive discussion”” Dizang said, “How can that compare to me here planting the fields and making rice to eat?” Xiushan said, “What can you do about the world?” Dizang said, “What do you call the world?”
Time and again during question and answer sessions after a Zen lecture, someone will ask: ‘What is the use of just sitting in silent meditation when there is so much suffering in the world?’ This question is usually meant as a challenge to what seems a kind of passiveness. It is true that the world is full of suffering beings; humans, animals, plants, even the planet itself is deeply suffering. Shouldn’t we be having extensive discussions, protesting, implementing solutions? This koan does for me what I think is the intention of all koans – it stops my mind in mid stride. It brings my awareness to the importance of asking questions before acting. Questions like: What is the nature of suffering and what is its ultimate cause? How can I help a world that I see as separate from myself? Wouldn’t it be more beneficial for me to deeply understand how the world is not something ‘out there’ that needs saving? If I consider the way we are all constantly, every moment, making the world then each simple, ordinary action I am able to take right here is ‘doing something about the world.’ And when it is time for other kinds of action, less simple or potentially more widely impactful, it is my intention that these actions will be grounded in not knowing what the world is, or what helping is.
—Rev. Zesho Susan O’Connell (Zen priest, President of the San Francisco Zen Center)
The Zen teacher’s dog loved his evening romp with his master.
The dog would bound ahead to fetch a stick, then run back, wag his tail, and wait for the next game.
On this particular evening, the teacher invited one of his brightest students to join him – a boy so intelligent that he became troubled by the contradictions in Buddhist doctrine.
“You must understand,” said the teacher, “that words are only guideposts. Never let the words or symbols get in the way of truth. Here, I’ll show you.”
With that the teacher called his happy dog.
“Fetch me the moon,” he said to his dog and pointed to the full moon.
“Where is my dog looking?” asked the teacher of the bright pupil.
“He’s looking at your finger.”
“Exactly. Don’t be like my dog.
Don’t confuse the pointing finger with the thing that is being pointed at.
All our Buddhist words are only guideposts.
Every man fights his way through other men’s words to find his own truth.
There was a person coming to a new village, re-locating, and he was wondering if he would like it there, so he went to the zen master and asked: do you think I will like it in this village?
Are the people nice?
The master asked back: "How were the people on the town where you come from?"
"They were nasty and greedy, they were angry and lived for cheating and stealing said the newcomer."
"Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village", said the master.
Another newcomer to the village visited the master and asked the same question, to which the master asked, "How were the people in the town where you come from?"
“They were sweet and lived in harmony, they cared for one another and for the land, they respected each other and they were seekers of spirit,” he replied.
"Those are exactly the type of people we have in this village", said the master.'
If You Love, Love Openly
Twenty monks and one nun, who was named Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen master.
Eshun was very pretty even though her head was shaved and her dress plain.
Several monks secretly fell in love with her.
One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a private meeting.
Eshun did not reply.
The following day the master gave a lecture to the group, and when it was over, Eshun arose.
Addressing the one who had written her, she said: "If you really love me so much, come and embrace me now."
From Zen Flesh Zen Bones
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."