For hundreds of years, the secret doctrines of Zen have been transmitted from master to student in the form of seemingly absurd riddles or parables called koans. Intense meditation upon these is said to lead to enlightenment.
These koans were translated into English from a book called the Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand), written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen master Muju (the “non-dweller”), and from anecdotes of Japanese Zen monks taken from various books published around the turn of the 20th century.
22. My Heart Burns Like Fire
Soyen Shaku, the first Zen teacher to come to America, said: “My heart burns like fire but my eyes are as cold as dead ashes.” He made the following rules which he practiced every day of his life.
In the morning before dressing, light incense and meditate.
Retire at a regular hour. Partake of food at regular intervals. Eat with moderation and never to the point of satisfaction.
Receive a guest with the same attitude you have when alone. When alone, maintain the same attitude you have in receiving guests.
Watch what you say, and whatever you say, practice it.
When an opportunity comes do not let it pass by, yet always think twice before acting.
Do not regret the past. Look to the future.
Have the fearless attitude of a hero and the loving heart of a child.
Upon retiring, sleep as if you had entered your last sleep. Upon awakening, leave your bed behind you instantly as if you had cast away a pair of old shoes.
23. Eshun’s Departure
When Eshun, the Zen nun, was past sixty and about to leave this world, she asked some monks to pile up wood in the yard. Seating herself firmly in the centre of the funeral pyre, she had it set fire around the edges.
“O nun!” shouted one monk, “is it hot in there?”
“Such a matter would concern only a stupid person like yourself,” answered Eshun.
The flames arose, and she passed away.
24. Reciting Sutras
A farmer requested a Tendai priest to recite sutras for his wife, who had died. After the recitation was over the farmer asked: “Do you think my wife will gain merit from this?”
“Not only your wife, but all sentient beings will benefit from the recitation of sutras,” answered the priest.
“If you say all sentient beings will benefit,” said the farmer, “my wife may be very weak and others will take advantage of her, getting the benefit she should have. So please recite sutras just for her.”
The priest explained that it was the desire of a Buddhist to offer blessings and wish merit for every living being.
“That is a fine teaching,” concluded the farmer, “but please make one exception. I have a neighbour who is rough and mean to me. Just exclude him from all those sentient beings.”
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