101 Zen Koans – Numbers 31, 32 & 33

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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.

31.   Everything Is Best

When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.

“Give me the best piece of meat you have,” said the customer.

“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best.”

At these words Banzan became enlightened.

32.   Inch Time Foot Gem

A lord asked Takuan, a Zen Teacher, to suggest how he might pass the time. He felt his days very long attending his office and sitting stiffly to receive the homage of others.

Takuan wrote eight Chinese characters and gave them to the man:

Not twice this day

Inch time foot gem.

This day will not come again.

Each minute is worth a priceless gem.

33.   Mokusen’s Hand

Mokusen Hiki was living in a temple in the province of Tamba. One of his adherents complained of the stinginess of his wife.

Mokusen visited the adherent’s wife and showed her his clenched fist before her face.

“What do you mean by that?” asked the surprised woman.

“Suppose my fist were always like that. What would you call it?” he asked.

“Deformed,” replied the woman.

Then he opened his hand flat in her face and asked: “Suppose it were always like that. What then?”

“Another kind of deformity,” said the wife.

“If you understand that much” finished Mokusen, “you are a good wife.” Then he left.

After his visit, this wife helped her husband to distribute as well as to save.

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