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101 Zen stories
From: http://www.sciforums.com/showthread.php?t=11986]
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Abraham Lincoln once asked one of his secretaries, "If you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a horse
have?".
"Five," replied the secretary.
"No," said the President, "The answer is four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."
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A group of frogs were traveling through the woods, when two of them fell into a deep pit. All the other
frogs gathered around the pit. When they saw how deep it was, they told the two frogs that they were as
good as dead.
The two frogs ignored the comments and tried to jump up out of the pit with all of their might. The other
frogs kept telling them to stop, that they were as good as dead. Finally, one of the frogs took heed to what
the other frogs were saying and gave up. She fell down and died.
The other frog continued to jump as hard as she could. Once again, the crowd of frogs yelled at her to
stop the pain and just die. She began jumping even harder and finally made it out. When she got out, the
other frogs said, "Did you not hear us?" The frog explained to them that she was deaf - she thought they
were encouraging her to jump out of the hole the entire time.
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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."
Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
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According to an ancient Indian fable, a mouse was in constant distress because of its fear of the cat. A
magician took pity on it and turned it into a cat. But then it became afraid of the dog. So the magician
turned it into a dog. Then it began to fear the panther. So the magician turned it into a panther.
Whereupon it was full of fear for the hunter. At this point the magician gave up, and turned it into a mouse
again saying, "Nothing I do for you is going to be of any help because you have the heart of a mouse."
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Gasan instructed his adherents one day: "Those who speak against killing and who desire to spare the
lives of all conscious beings are right. It is good to protect even animals and insects. But what about
those persons who kill time, what about those who are destroying wealth, and those who destroy political
economy? We should not overlook them. Furthermore, what of the one who preaches without
enlightenment? He is killing Buddhism."
Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
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A farmer got so old that he couldn't work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the
porch. His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there.
"He's of no use any more," the son thought to himself, "he doesn't do anything!" One day the son got so
frustrated by this, that he built a wood coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in.
Without saying anything, the father climbed inside. After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the
edge of the farm where there was a high cliff. As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the
lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son. "I
know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?" "What is it?"
replied the son. "Throw me over the cliff, if you like," said the father, "but save this good wood coffin. Your
children might need to use it."
Source: Zen Stories To Tell Your Neighbors
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Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: "What is the most valuable thing in the world?"
The master replied: "The head of a dead cat."
"Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?" inquired the student.
Sozan replied: "Because no one can name its price."
Source: Zen Flesh, Zen Bones
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There was once a holy man who lived in a state of ecstasy, but was regarded by everyone as insane.
One day, having begged for food in the village, he sat by the roadside and began to eat when a dog came
up and looked at him hungrily. The holy man then began to feed the dog; he himself would take a morsel,
then give a morsel to the dog as though he and the dog were old friends. Soon a crowd gathered around
the two of them to watch this extraordinary sight.
One of the men in the crowd jeered at the holy man. He said to the others, "What can you expect from
someone so crazy that he is not able to distinguish between a human being and a dog?"
The holy man replied, "Why do you laugh? Do you not see Vishnu seated with Vishnu? Vishnu is being
fed and Vishnu is doing the feeding. So why do you laugh, oh Vishnu?"
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The warty frog and the prize goldfish met one summer afternoon in the temple pool. "Don't you realize
how beautiful I am?" bubbled the goldfish flashing her wispy tail. The frog made no reply. "I can
understand your silence," gloated the goldfish. "I am not only graceful in my movements but I also
enhance the golden rays of the sun." Again, neither answer or movements from the frog. "Say
something," demanded the goldfish just as a waiting crane speared the sparkling fish and flew into the
sky. "Bye bye," croaked the frog.
Source: Zen Fables For Today
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In ancient India there was a King called Janaka, who was also a sage. One day Janaka was taking a nap
on his flower-strewn bed with his servants fanning him and his soldiers standing guard outside his door.
As he dozed off, he had a dream in which a neighboring King defeated him in battle, took him prisoner,
and had him tortured. As soon as the torture began, Janaka woke with a start to find himself lying on his
flower-strewn bed with his servants fanning him and his soldiers on guard.
Once again he dozed off and had the same dream. And once again he woke up to find himself safe and
comfortable in his palace.
Now Janaka began to be disturbed by several thoughts: While he was asleep, the world of his dreams
had seemed so real. Now that he was awake, the world of the senses seemed real. Which of these two
worlds is the real one, he wanted to know.
None of the philosophers, scholars, and seers he consulted could give him an answer. And for many
years he searched in vain, till one day a man called Ashtavakra knocked at the door of the palace. Now,
Ashtavakra means "entirely deformed or crooked," and he got that name because that is exactly what his
body had been from birth.
At first the King was not disposed to take this man seriously. "How can a misshapen man like you be the
carrier of a wisdom denied to my seers and scholars?" he asked.
"Right from my childhood, all avenues have been closed to me - so I avidly pursued the path of wisdom,"
was Ashtavakra's reply.
"Speak, then," said the King.
So this is what Ashtavakra said: "O King, neither the waking state nor the dream state is real. When you
are awake, the world of dreams does not exist and when you dream the world of the senses does not
exist. Therefore, neither is real."