Koans were onced used by Zen masters to aid their disciples in realizing enlightenment. Koan’s became teaching tools with most being recorded during the Sung Dynasty in China. These fable like stories are usually events which involves a master and his disciple concluding with the disciple having a deep insight. Koans have an ability to give you a shift in consciousness, and shows you how to view life with a different perspective.
The following are my top 5 favourite Koans:
Is That So?
The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.
In great anger the parent went to the master. “Is that so?” was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.
A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth – the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.
Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: “Is that so?”
The Thief And The Moon
A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain.
One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal.
The Zen Master returned and found him. “You have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift.
” The thief was bewildered, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow,” he mused, ” I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”
Two monks were returning to the monastery in the evening. It had rained and there were puddles of water on the road sides. At one place a beautiful young woman was standing unable to walk accross because of a puddle of water. The elder of the two monks went up to a her lifted her and left her on the other side of the road, and continued his way to the monastery.
In the evening the younger monk came to the elder monk and said, “Sir, as monks, we cannot touch a woman ?”
The elder monk answered “yes, brother”.
Then the younger monk asks again, “but then Sir, how is that you lifted that woman on the roadside ?”
The elder monk smiled at him and told him ” I left her on the other side of the road, but you are still carrying her.”
When Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through the repitition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.
Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.
“The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?”
Bankei replied lightly: “Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink.”
Blind Men And The Elephant
Several citizens ran into a hot argument about God and different religions, and each one could not agree to a common answer. So they came to the Lord Buddha to find out what exactly God looks like.
The Buddha asked his disciples to get a large magnificent elephant and four blind men. He then brought the four blind to the elephant and told them to find out what the elephant would “look” like.
The first blind men touched the elephant leg and reported that it “looked” like a pillar. The second blind man touched the elephant tummy and said that an elephant was a wall. The third blind man touched the elephant ear and said that it was a piece of cloth. The fourth blind man hold on to the tail and described the elephant as a piece of rope. And all of them ran into a hot argument about the “appearance” of an elephant.
The Buddha asked the citizens: “Each blind man had touched the elephant but each of them gives a different description of the animal. Which answer is right?”