The student Tokusan used to go to Master Ryutan in the evenings to talk and to listen. One night, it was very late before he was finished asking questions.

“Why don’t you go to bed?” asked Ryutan.

Tokusan bowed, and lifted the screen to go out. “The hall is very dark,” he said.

“Here, take this candle,” said Ryutan, lighting one.

Tokusan took the candle.

Ryutan leaned forward, and blew it out.


Master Mokurai passed by a young monk, Toyo, lying in the footpath. He stopped to watch him a moment, then returned to ask, “Why are you lying there?”

Toyo responded, “Master, you taught that to travel the path to enlightenment, one must become the path.”

“And have you become the path?” asked Mokurai.

“I feel a great peace,” Toyo answered.

Mokurai nodded and then stepped onto Toyo’s chest. “This path feels a bit soft,” he said to Nansen, bouncing up and down. “Try it with me.”

Nansen stepped onto Toyo’s stomach and began to bounce as well. “Master, it does seem soft,” he said. “Perhaps Obaku should try it with us.”

Mokurai signaled to Obaku to join them, and Obaku stepped onto Toyo’s groin.

“Do you feel a great peace?” Mokurai then asked Toyo.


Sekkyo said to one of his monks, “Can you get hold of emptiness?”

“I’ll try,” said the monk, and he cupped his hands in the air.

“That’s not very good,” said Sekkyo. “You have nothing there!”

“Well, master,” said the monk, “please show me a better way.”

Thereupon, Sekkyo seized the monk’s nose and gave it a great yank.

“Ouch!” yelled the monk. “You hurt me!”

“That’s the way to get hold of emptiness!” said Sekkyo.


The master Gutei made a practice of raising his finger whenever he explained a question about Zen. A young disciple began to imitate him, and every time Gutei raised his finger when he preached, this boy would raise his finger, too. Everybody laughed, but one day Gutei caught him at it. He took the boy’s hand, whipped out a knife, cut off the finger, and threw it away. The boy walked off howling.

“Stop!” shouted Gutei. The boy stopped, and looked at the master through his tears. Gutei raised his finger. The boy raised his finger. Then suddenly he realized it wasn’t there. He hesitated a moment: Then he bowed.


Fuketsu was practicing calligraphy when Joshu ran up to him.

“Master, I just left my body,” he stammered. “I was meditating in the meadow and became a butterfly!”

Fuketsu finished his last stroke and then set down the brush. “And why did you return?” he asked.

Joshu thought for a moment, and then declared, “I had no choice.”

Fuketsu stood up and punched Joshu in the nose. Then he asked, “Did I have a choice?”

- - -

Zen parables: 1, 3, 4
People just being cruel: 2, 5