Category Archives: Stories

Have tea! Wake up!

There is a Zen story. A great master woke up in the morning. He called his chief disciple and said, “Come to me. I had a dream, I will tell it to you. Interpret it.”

If the disciple was a Freud or a Jung or an Adler, he would have been tremendously happy, and he would have immediately started interpreting the dream. But the disciple was a meditator, not a Jung, not a Freud. He said, “You wait. Don’t talk rubbish. I will bring water so you can wash your face.”

He brought a bowl of water. While the master was washing his face, another disciple passed. The master said, “Come here. I had a dream. Would you like to interpret it?”

The disciple looked. He said, “Wait. The tea is ready and I will bring you a cup of tea. Then you will come to your senses!” A dream is not worth even interpretation.

The master was happy. It is said he danced that day. He said, “At least two disciples….” He said, “If you had interpreted my dream, I would have thrown you out of my monastery” – because a dream is nonsense, and then trying to interpret it is even a higher nonsense.

What the disciples did was the best interpretation. The first one brought a bowl of water and said to the old master, “You just wash your face so that you become more awake.”

The other brought tea. “Just drink tea, a little hot tea, and that will bring you back to your senses. You will be more conscious.”

Consciousness is needed, not interpretation. All dreams are the same: there are not good dreams and bad dreams. How can there be good dreams and bad dreams? Both are unreal. In unreality you cannot make a distinction between good and bad. Moral, immoral; sinner, saint – all are dreams. Don’t try to change one dream for another. All are chains. Steel or gold, it doesn’t matter.

Wake up! All the awakened ones are just standing there with bowls of water and a hot cup of tea….


Tea served with heart

Once Rikyu took two disciples to have tea with an old man, quite poor, who made exquisite iron tea kettles.

The man’s hut was shabby, his utensils inferior and mismatched, his tea not of the best quality. His hands shook as he performed the ceremony, and at one point he even dropped the tea scoop.

Walking home with Rikyu, the two disciples couldn’t help but draw attention to all the man’s short comings as a host.

Rikyu upbraided them, saying, “His tea was superb. He used his best utensils, gave us his best tea, and served us with all the sincerity of his heart. He is your master.”

Many though there be
Who with words or even hands
Know the Way of Tea
Few there are or not at all
Who can serve it from the heart

Though you wipe your hands
And brush off the dust and dirt
From the tea vessels
What’s the use of all thus fuss
If the heart is still impure?

The Donkey in a Well

One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway; it just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey.

He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement he quieted down.

A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well. He was astonished at what he saw. With each shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.

As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and happily trotted off!


Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a steppingstone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up.

Remember the five simple rules to be happy:

1. Free your heart from hatred – Forgive.

2. Free your mind from worries – Most never happens.

3. Live simply and appreciate what you have.

4. Give more.

5. Expect nothing

Great Waves

In the early days of the Meiji era there lived a well-known wrestler called O-nami, Great Waves.

O-nami was immensly strong and knew the art of wresting. In his private bouts he defeated even his teacher, but in public was so bashful that his own pupils threw him.

O-nami felt he should go to a Zen master for help. Hakuju, a wandering teacher, was stopping in a little temple nearby, so O-nami went to see him and told him of his great trouble.

“Great Waves is your name,” the teacher advised, “so stay in this temple tonight. Imagine that you are those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. You are those huge waves sweeping everything before them, swallowing all in their path. Do this and you will be the greatest wrestler in the land.”

The teacher retired. O-nami sat in meditation trying to imagine himself as waves. He thought of many different things. Then gradualy he turned more and more to the feeling of waves. As the night advanced the waves became larger and larger. They swept away the flowers in their vases. Even the Buddha in the shrine was inundated. Before dawn the temple was nothing but the ebb and flow of an immense sea.

In the morning the teacher found O-nami meditating, a faint smile on his face. He patted the wrestler’s shoulder. “Now nothing can disturb you,” he said. “You are those waves. You will sweep everything before you.”

The same day O-nami entered the wrestling contests and won. After that, no one in Japan was able to defeat him.

Only a Bowl of Rice

Once upon a time in ancient China, there lived a sage who was known for his ability to solve difficult problems. One day, he had two visitors who needed his advice. Both were polite young men, and each insisted that the other should go first. After some discussion, they discovered that their questions were essentially the same, so they settled on speaking with the sage at the same time.

One of the young men asked: “Master, our problems are similar. We are both low-level employees being treated badly at work. We get no respect at all, and our employers constantly push us around. Can you please tell us if we should quit our jobs?”

The sage closed his eyes and meditated at length. The two young men waited patiently, until finally the sage opened his eyes. He gave them the answer in five words: “Only a bowl of rice.”

The two young men thanked the sage and departed. They contemplated the answer as they walked back to the city. “That was interesting,” one of the young men broke the silence. “What do you think the sage meant?”

The other one was thoughtful: “Well, it’s fairly obvious that the bowl of rice represents our daily meals.”

“I agree,” said the first young man. “I think he was telling us that the job is nothing more than a means to make a living.”

“Yes, when you come right down to it, that’s all we get out of the job – our daily meals.”

They went their separate ways. One of them continued working at the same place. The other one submitted a letter of resignation immediately upon his return. He went home to the countryside and took up farming.

After several years, this young man achieved considerable success as a farmer. He used what he had learned in the city to import high quality seeds. The fruits and vegetables he grew became known as the best in the region. He enjoyed not only great profits, but also a reputation as an expert.

The young man who remained at work also did well. It was as if he became a different person. He took on difficult tasks and demonstrated an ability to handle adversity. He rose up through the ranks and received one promotion after another, until he became a manager.

One day, the two of them met again. Once they got caught up with one another, they realized that they had taken two very different paths – based on the exact same answer from the sage. They were both wealthy and happy, but which path was the correct one?

“How strange!” the manager exclaimed in puzzlement. “The Master said the same thing to us, and we both heard it the same way. Why did you quit?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” the farmer was also puzzled. “I understood his words immediately. The job was nothing more than the means to get my daily meals, so why force myself to stay in a horrible situation just for a bowl of rice? Quitting was obviously the right thing to do. Why did you stay?”

“I also think it should be obvious,” the manager laughed. “The job meant nothing more than a bowl of rice, so why was I getting so worked up over it? As soon as I understood this, I realized there was no need for me to get so upset. I did not have to take the abuse heaped on me personally, so of course I stayed. Isn’t that what he meant?”

“Now I am completely confused,” the farmer shook his head. “Did he mean for us to take your path or my path? Let’s go see him again and get to the bottom of this.”

Once again they presented themselves before the sage and explained the reason for their visit. “As you can see, Master, we would really like to know the real meaning of your advice all those years ago. Can you give us some insights?”

Again the sage closed his eyes. The two men waited patiently as before. After a spell, the sage opened his eyes and gave them his answer… again in five words:

“Only a difference of thought.”


The master Bankei’s talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras nor indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners.

His large audiences angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to debate with Bankei.

“Hey, Zen teacher!” he called out. “Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?”

“Come up beside me and I will show you,” said Bankei.

Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher.

Bankei smiled. “Come over to my left side.”

The priest obeyed.

“No,” said Bankei, “we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here.”

The priest proudly stepped over to the right

“You see,” observed Bankei, “you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen.”

The First Principle

When one goes to Obaku temple in Kyoto he sees carved over the gate the words “The First Principle.” The letters are unusually large, and those who appreciate calligraphy always admire them as being a masterpiece. They were drawn by Kosen two hundred years ago.

When the master drew them he did so on paper, from which workmen made the larger carving in wood. As Kosen sketched the letters a bold pupil was with him who had made several gallons of ink for the calligraphy and who never failed to criticize his master’s work.

“That is not good,” he told Kosen after the first effort.

“How is that one?”

“Poor. Worse than before,” pronounced the pupil.

Kosen patiently wrote one sheet after another until eighty-four First Principles had been accumulated, still without the approval of the pupil.

Then, when the young man stepped outside for a few moments, Kosen thought: “Now is my chance to escape his keen eye,” and he wrote hurridly, with a mind free from disctraction. “The First Principle.”

“A masterpiece,” pronounced the pupil.