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.
43. Zen in a Beggar’s Life
Tosui was a well-known Zen teacher of his time. He had lived in several temples and taught in various provinces. The last temple he visited accumulated so many adherents that Tosui told them he was going to quit the lecture business entirely. He advised them to disperse and to go wherever they desired. After that no one could find any trace of him.
Three years later one of his disciples discovered him living with some beggars under a bridge in Kyoto. He at one implored Tosui to teach him.
“If you can do as I do for even a couple of days, I might,” Tosui replied.
So the former disciple dressed as a beggar and spent a day with Tosui. The following day one of the beggars died. Tosui and his pupil carried the body off at midnight and buried it on a mountainside. After that they returned to their shelter under the bridge.
Tosui slept soundly the remainder of the night, but the disciple could not sleep. When morning came Tosui said:
“We do not have to beg food today. Our dead friend has left some over there.” But the disciple was unable to eat a single bite of it.
“I have said you could not do as I,” concluded Tosui. “Get out of here and do not bother me again.”
44. The Thief Who Became a Disciple
One evening as Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras a thief with a sharp sword entered, demanding wither his money or his life. Shichiri told him:
“Do not disturb me. You can find the money in that drawer.” Then he resumed his recitation. A little while afterwards he stopped and called:
“Don’t take it all. I need some to pay taxes with tomorrow.” The intruder gathered up most of the money and started to leave.
“Thank a person when you receive a gift,” Shichiri added. The man thanked him and made off. A few days afterwards the fellow was caught and confessed, among others, the offense against Shichiri. When Shichiri was called as a witness he said:
“This man is no thief, at least as far as I am concerned. I gave him the money and he thanked me for it.”
After he had finished his prison term, the man went to Shichiri and became his disciple.
45. Right & Wrong
When Bankei held his seclusion-weeks of meditation, pupils from many parts of Japan came to attend. During one of these gatherings a pupil was caught stealing. The matter was reported to Bankei with the request that the culprit be expelled. Bankei ignored the case.
Later the pupil was caught in a similar act, and again Bankei disregarded the matter. This angered the other pupils, who drew up a petition asking for the dismissal of the thief, stating that otherwise they would leave in a body.
When Bankei had read the petition he called everyone before him.
“You are wise brothers,” he told them. “You know what is right and what is not right. You may somewhere else to study if you wish, but this poor brother does not even know right from wrong. Who will teach him if I do not? I am going to keep him here even if all the rest of you leave.”
A torrent of tears cleansed the face of the brother who had stolen. All desire to steal had vanished.
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