We’ll See—Adding ideas to the experience (Story)

August 11, 2011

There lived an old farmer who had worked on his fields for many, many years. One day, his horse ran away. His neighbors dropped in to commiserate with him. “What awful luck,” they said sympathetically, to which the farmer only replied, “We’ll see.”
Next morning, to everyone’s surprise, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How amazing is that!” the neighbors exclaimed in excitement. The old man replied, “We’ll see.”
A day later, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. He was thrown on the ground and broke his leg. Once more, the neighbors came by to express their sympathies for this stroke of bad luck. “We’ll see,” said the farmer politely.
The next day, the village had some visitors – military officers who had come with the purpose of drafting young men into the army. They passed over the farmer’s son, thanks to his broken leg. The neighbors patted the farmer on his back – how lucky he was to not have his son join the army! “We’ll see,” was all that the farmer said!


The neighbors are quick to offer ideas about good or bad to the experience, but the farmer’s counsel is just to be present to it.   

Opinions such as good and bad are extra and lead to separation from the direct arising of the moment.  The direction is not to personalize the experience, nor to withdraw from it, but to encounter and act appropriately.  What is left if the idea of “how things should be” falls away?

Additional Stories:

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)

Cause of Common Accidents–Story

February 21, 2010

A master gardener, famous for his skill in climbing and pruning the highest trees, examined his disciple by letting him climb a very high tree. Many people had come to watch. The master gardener stood quietly, carefully following every move but not interfering with one word. Having pruned the top, the disciple climbed down and was only ten feet from the ground when the master suddenly yelled: “Take care, take care!” When the disciple was safely down an old man asked the master gardener: “You did not let out one word when he was aloft in the most dangerous place. Why did you caution him when he was nearly down? Even if he had slipped then, he could not have greatly hurt himself.” “But isn’t it obvious?” replied the master gardener. “Right up at the top he is conscious of the danger, and of himself takes care. But near the end, when one begins to feel safe, this is when accidents occur.”

Comment: It certainly is the case that accidents tend to occur at the end of the working day when people are comfortable with their surroundings, tired, and let their attention down.

A more technical description is in the short article: Preventing Common Household Accidents

Source: Schloeal, Irmgard; The Wisdom of the Zen Masters, New Directions 1975, Pg 52


Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)

The Parable of Me and Mine-Story

February 18, 2010

This parable is from the Yogacara Bhumi Sutra.  The text was translated from Sanskrit or Pali into Chinese 284 CE.  This translation is by Albert Waley found in Buddhist Texts through the Ages (Conze et al, editors, 1954).

Some children were playing beside a river.  They made castles of sand and each child defended his castle and said, “This one is mine .”  They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose.  When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else’s and completely destroyed it.  The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child’s hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, “He has ruined my castle! Co and help me punish him as he deserves.  “me along all of us The others all came to his help.  They beat the child with a stick and then stamped on him as he lay on the ground. . .  Then they went on playing  in their sand-castles, each saying, “This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away!  Don’t touch my castle!”

But evening came; it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home.  No one cared what became of his castle.  One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both his hands.  Then they turned away and went back, each to his home.

Behaviors resonate for centuries for both children and adults.   Today’s prized possessions and cherished ambitions are yesterday’s sand-castles.  What is left.


Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)

The Frog that Lived in the Well

February 20, 2009

This story, like The Wren and the Cicada, is taken from the Chuang Tzu (in Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China, Arthur Waley, 1939).

There was a frog who lived in an abandoned well. When the giant turtle from the Eastern Sea came, the Frog said “How you must envy my life. When I feel like it, I can hop to the top railing and be in the sun. When I tired, I can crawl into the side of the wall where a tile is missing and take a nap. And when I feel like a swim, I just hop down to the bottom. There may be a few tadpoles down there, but it is my pond. To have the use of the entire water, to have the use of a disused well, this is certainly the most that life has to offer. Please come down and see it for yourself.”

The giant turtle from the Eastern Sea attempted to get into the well, but before his left foot was in, its right foot had become wedged in. He wiggled free, crawled out and said to the frog: “As you have been kind enough to tell me of your well, let me tell you about the sea. Imagine a distance of a thousand leagues, and you will still have no idea of its size. Imagine a height of thousand man’s stature, and you will have no idea of its depth. In the time of the great Yu, in ten years, there were nine floods; but the sea became no deeper. In the time of T’ang the Victorious, there were seven years of drought in eight years, but the sea did not retreat from its shores. Not to be harried by the moments that flash by, nor changed by the ages that pass; to receive much, yet not increase, to receive little, yet not diminish , this is the Great Joy of the Easter Sea.

Will the frog leave the contentment of his well and experience the vastness of the world. The question is asked, but only the frog can respond.

With this question, His current experience and knowledge no longer is sufficient standard to set the boundaries between false and true. But, the well is comfortable.


Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)

Limited by Experience: Cicada and the Wren–Story

January 19, 2009

The fable is from the Chuang Tzu. This translation is from Arthur Waley in Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China, Anchor 1955)

There are birds that fly many hundreds of miles without stopping. Someone mentioned this to the cicada and wren. The two animals decided that such a thing was impossible. “You and I know very well that the furthest one can get, even by the greatest effort is that elm tree over there; and even then one can not be sure of getting there every time. Sometimes, one finds themselves dragged back to earth long before reaching that elm tree. All of these stories abut flying hundreds of miles at one stretch must be shear nonsense.

The cicada and the wren have valid experiences; their thoughts and imagination are shaped by these. Ultimately, their lives are confined by the imagination that comes from mistaking these experiences to be complete.

Life for the cicada and wren is as it seems. It is when the possibility arises, perhaps in a chance situation, that there is a world with potential never imagined. This can be the beginning of a search for the tools to go beyond the current experience.

Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)

Zen Lightning

January 31, 2008

Lighting can jolt our reality

Lightning strikes in a moment with force and sound.  Then it is over and there is no way to hold on to it.

What is the source of lightning?  Where does it come from?  Why does it jump from clouds?  A meteorologist can give an answer.  “It’s due to a combination of air currents in the clouds, ice particle colliding, and temperature changes.”  Sounds reasonable—but it does not get to the crux of the matter.  It is just an explanation.  But still we listen to the words and repeat them often enough to believe them to be the fact.  The words don’t reveal where the lightning comes from, or even what it is.   The fact is that no one knows where lightning comes from.

Our life is like this.  We shine brightly for the moment.  We can have stories about where we come from, whether it is the birth of an individual or the birth of the universe.  But these words are just explanations also.  Again, no one knows.  We just say it.  We are just here.

But we have been given the gift to be born humans—to have the capability to raise questions that go directly to our nature–Who am I?  Why? What? 

But more, we are fortunate to have the time and opportunity to explore, not explain, these questions.  The time is now.  The opportunity is our practice.  Zazen, quieting the mind and bringing attention back to the moment, is at the heart of the practice.  This practice begins to loosen the attachment to words and explanations.  It allows us to raise the energy needed for transformation and to have an active insight into our nature.

Active insight expresses itself directly and usefully in all of our activities — work, taking care of others, cleaning, eating.

This is the opportunity and time.  It is ours to make the most of it.

The Monk’s Test–Story

September 16, 2007

This open-ended story appears in many forms.In the published versions, the teacher is Nan-in and the monk Tenno.

The monk had been summoned to see the Zen teacher. It was the custom in the monastery for the teacher to meet individually with the monks in order to test their understanding. The monk had worked with the master for 10 years; He had worked hard, both in mindfulness and reading. Possible questions and scenarios of questions that may come from the teacher raced through his head. He was ready for them all.

The day was rainy, but his spirits were high. At the appointed time, he walked over to the abbot’s quarters. The master immediately asked: “When you entered the building, did you put your shoes to the right of your umbrella or to the left”? The monk hesitated; he wasn’t sure. He had just done taken his shoes off moments earlier. Before he could consider further, the master ended the interview; he had not been aware; The monk remained with his teacher for another 10 years.


Scenarios racing through the mind lead nowhere.Yet, the habit of this mental activity seems to be the way to prepare.The reality always seems to be different from the scenarios.

At first look, inventing scenarios seems like more useful than developing awareness. The scenarios fill the mind and block the reality. With awareness, there is room for spontaneity and creativity.

In this story, it is a rare event that the monk saw his own confusion for himself and then did something about it.

Additional Stories

This is a link to a Collection of Zen Stories     (usefulzenwords.com)