ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

10 Best Must Read Inspiring Zen Buddhism Stories

Updated on May 29, 2013

One of the best way to learn about the teachings of Zen Buddhism is none other than reading Zen stories. Zen stories are normally very short as they are usually designed in such a way that they can be easily digested by our mind. Not only that they can develop our mind, they can also open up our heart and let's us connect to our true self.

Knowing and understanding (deeply) are two different things. Knowing will not make you wiser but understanding, on the other hand, will. This is the reason why the same thing heard by different people will have different impact. One might nod his heard, other might have awakened by it.

Below are 10 Zen stories that I have compiled and which I found quite inspiring and worth to ponder about. Some of the messages that they try to bring out might be easily grasp, some others might need you to think about them thoroughly and realize them in your true self. Whichever it is, no doubt that you will enjoy them.

1. A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, was a Japanese Zen Master during the administration era of Meiji. One day, he received a guest who was a university professor and which he would like to learn more about Zen and Buddhism.

As soon as they sat down, Nan-in served the tea while the professor started to talk about his opinions and knowledge about Buddhism. He spoke continusously, giving no opportunity for Nan-in to interrupt.

Seeing this, Nan-in kept on pouring his visitor's tea until it was overflow and split onto the table. The professor couldn't restrain himself and shouted to Na-in to stop pouring.

In reply, Nan-in said, "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen if you don't first empty your cup?"

2. Everything is Best

There was a time when a Zen practitioner was walking through a market and overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.

The customer said, "Give me the best piece of meat you have here."

The butcher replied, "Everything in my shop is the best. You can't find what is not best here."

With these words, the Zen practitioner became enlightened and started to experience things differently.

3. Nothing Exists

As a novice student of Zen, Yamaoka Tesshu loved to pay a visit to one master after another. At one time, he arrived at Dokion's place.

Desiring to show off his attainment, he said, "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."

Dokuon gave no reaction towards his statement and remained silent. Suddenly, he raised his bamboo pipe and whacked Yamaoka. This made the novice Zen practitioner quite angry and yelled at Dokuon.

Dokuon inquired, "If nothing exists, where did this anger come from?"

Zen Master, Bodhidharma
Zen Master, Bodhidharma | Source

4. The Burden

Two monks were on their way back to their monastery in one evening. It had rained quite heavily and puddles of water were everywhere along the road sides. At one place, there was a young beautiful woman standing unable to walk across because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to her and offered to lift her towards on the other side of the road. Once, done both of them continued their way to the monastery.

On the way back, the younger monk asked the elder monk, "As monks, we are not supposed to have direct contact with a woman?"

The elder monk replied, "You are absolutely right."

The young monk asked again, "But then, how could you lift that woman towards the other side of the road?"

The elder monk smiled at him and said, "I have already left her on the other side of the road but you are still carrying her."

5. The Other Side

One day a young Buddhist was on his journey back home arrived at the banks of a wide river. Gazing hopelessly at the great obstacle before him, he pondered for hours to think a way to get across such a wide barrier.

Just as he was about to give up, he say a great master on the other side of the river. He then, yelled at the master, "Oh Master, could you please show me the way to get to the other side of this river?"

The master pondered for a moment and yelled back, "Son, you are on the other side."

6. Heaven and Hell

There was once a fierceful general that wanted to know where is Heaven and Hell. And so he stomped into a nearby temple in searching for his answer. There, he saw a monk kneeling down before the Buddha statue doing some silent prayers. He approached the monk and yelled, "Tell me, where is Heaven and where is Hell?"

Undisturbed, the monk remained silent and continued with what he had been doing. Again, the general repeated the same question but this time with even lesser patience and yet the monk didn't utter a single word.

The general became extremely angry and held his sword near the monk's neck and said, "If you don't tell me where is Heaven and Hell, I'll be sending you to the latter!"

The monk opened his eyes and looked up upon the general and said, "This is Hell."

The general became puzzled upon hearing this and dropped his sword and the monk said, "This is Heaven."

7. The Moving Mind

There were two monks sitting outside of the temple and both were witnessing how the wind was whipping the flag of the temple. This incident has sparkled a debated between the two monks. One said the banner was the one moving while the other one said it was the wind which was moving. They argued back and forth without attaining to the principle.

The Zen Master then walked toward them and announced that both of them were wrong and he said, "This is not the movement of the wind nor the movement of the flag. It is the movement of your minds."

Both monks were awestuck upon hearing this.

 Two Blind Men on a Bridge by Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku, 1685-1768.
Two Blind Men on a Bridge by Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku, 1685-1768.

8. Is That So?

There was a Zen Master known as Hakuin whom was highly praised by his neighors as one who living a pure life.

There was a beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store that lived nearby him. One day, her parents found out that their daughter was pregnant.

The parents were dissapointed and angry at the same time. They made her to confess who was the child's father and after much harassment, she named Hakuin.

In absolutely great anger, they went to the Zen Master and cursed him. Hakuin only said, "Is that so?"

When the child was born, both the parents sent it over to Hakuin and let him to raise the child since it was his wrong doing. Again Hakuin uttered, "Is that so?" and accepted the child.

One year later, the daughter confessed that the real father of the child was actually a young man who wored in the market.

Knowing this, both the parents quickly went over to the Zen Master house and sought for his forgiveness and to get the child back again.

Hakuin was willing and in handing the child to them, all he said was, "Is that so?"

Little Zen Tree
Little Zen Tree | Source

9. Maybe

Once upon a time, there was an old farmer who had worked his crops diligently for many years. One day, one of the horses that he reared, ran away. Upon hearing this, his neighbours came to visit and said sympathetically, "Such a bad luck."

In reply, the old farmer said, "Maybe."

After a few days, the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. The neighbors were surprised and exclaimed, "Luck is with you."

The old man gave the same reply, "Maybe."

The following day, his son tried to ride on one of the untamed horses that came back with the runaway horse. He was thrown and broke his leg. The neighors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune.

Yet, the old farmer uttered, "Maybe."

The day after, military officials arrived to the village to draf young men into the army in preparation for the upcoming war. Seeing the condition of his son, they passed him by. Witnessing this, the neighbors congratulated the farmer on how fortunate things had turned out.

“Maybe,” said the farmer.

Pathway to Zen
Pathway to Zen | Source

10. Life is a Dream, an Illusion, a Buble, a Shadow

Knowing that his time would soon up, an elderly Zen Master decided to expedite his chief diciple in achieving a Great Awakening by driving him out of his complacency through a plan to 'frame' him as a thief in disguise.

At night, the Zen Master hid one of his valuable Buddha images and then cried, "Thief, thief." When the chief diciple ran into his room, the master grabbed him and threw him onto the floor. When other younger monks arrived, he said, "This is the thief and I have caught you red-handed!" The chief diciple was then denounced and told to leave the monastery.

The accused monk was completely disgraced and he couldn't understand why his master did this to him. His ego was totally shattered and it seemed that he had nowhere to turn to. After several weeks of utter desperation, he calmed down and suddenly experienced a Great Awakening. He has now understood that: life is a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow.

He quickly rushed back to the monastery and upon seeing him, the Master stood up and greeted him warmly. The Master, then, conferred the succession upon him and declared that this is the very teaching that he had been trying to impact to the novices for the past so many years.

Zen Buddhism - The Land of the Disappearing Buddha

Zen Buddhist teachings by Chozen and Hogen Bays


Submit a Comment
  • stephaniedas profile image

    Stephanie Das 

    6 years ago from Miami, US

    Awesome stories! I have never read Zen stories before, but they are great. I love the one about the old man who says "Maybe" whenever something good or bad happens :)

  • DDE profile image

    Devika Primić 

    6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

    Great stories and you have a good focus on the topic

  • KenWu profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Malaysia

    Thanks, err...forgottenlaw. Hope you enjoy them.

  • 11forgottenlaws profile image


    6 years ago from US

    Zen stories are great. I have already read some of the stories up there and they are absolutely awesome. It makes your mind to spin and think what's the message that it tries to bring out. Awesomely great!

  • KenWu profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Malaysia

    Thanks AllyWally.

  • AllyWally profile image


    6 years ago from Subang, Malaysia

    There are awesome!

  • KenWu profile imageAUTHOR


    6 years ago from Malaysia

    Thanks Poole. It's great you have already read and like some of the stories.

  • PDPoole profile image

    PD Poole 

    6 years ago from Alexandria, Louisiana


    Those you offered to us all happen to be some of my most favorite and instructive koans of all. Thank you for this gift!


This website uses cookies

As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

Show Details
HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)