It’s fun to learn something through fables or stories. The use of legends and fables to teach different ideas or subjects can be seen in almost all religious books of the world. Zen Buddhism is no exception.
In all the research I have done so far, I have seen that Zen stories are very popular among the readers, whether they are Buddhists or non-Buddhists.
But one thing to note is that it’s difficult to get these stories sorted by topics. So that’s what I’m trying to do here. In this episode, I am sharing some zen stories centered on humility.
01. The Story of Zen Master and the Prime Minister
Once upon a time a good teacher-student relationship existed between the Prime Minister of Tang Dynasty and a Zen master. Although the Prime Minister was very influential, he treated the Zen master with due respect.
One day the Prime Minister asked the Zen master, “Dear scholar, what is the definition of egotism in Buddhist scriptures?”
In response to this question, the Zen master became angry and replied in a harsh voice, “This is a stupid question.”
The Prime Minister felt humiliated after receiving such a reply from the Zen master. He became enraged and fell into a negative mindset.
At this, the Zen master smiled and said, “Your Highness, this is egotism according to Buddhism!”
When the Prime Minister heard the Zen master’s remark, he realized his mistake and apologized.
Lessons to learn: true humility is the ability to remain humble, even in the face of challenges.
02. Empty Your Cup
Once upon a time a scholar went to a Zen master to collect information about Zen. The Zen master was gladly explaining what he knew. However, the scholar began to interrupt the Zen master frequently in order to add his own opinions.
The Zen master saw that it would not work if he continued like this because the scholar was more interested in expressing his opinion than in listening to the Zen master.
So he stopped talking and started serving tea to the scholar. As the Zen master poured tea into the cup of tea, the cup became full, but he kept pouring. Soon the tea began to spill.
When the scholar saw this, he was surprised and asked the Zen master about the purpose of such action.
The Zen master replied, “Like this cup, your heart is full of your own thoughts and opinions. To taste my cup of tea, you have to empty the old cup first!”
Lessons to learn: The attitude we should all have is one of accepting other’s opinions and judging them with an open mind. If we wish to pretend that our own ideas are always the best, we cannot accept the good of others.
03. Wash Your Bowl
A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me. ”
Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”
The monk replied: “I have eaten.”
Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”
At that moment the monk was enlightened.
Lessons to learn: The story is very short. But there is an analysis of the nature of pure humility in this story.
As a human being, you cannot grow by engaging in lofty thoughts alone. He who is truly great does not depend on others or try to use others to further his own interests. A person who is enlightened takes care of their chores on their own. And that’s why they’re simple and humble in their personal lives.
04. The Wise Sage and the Arrogant Rat
One day a sage noticed that a crow dropped a rat from its beak to the ground. He rescued the rat immediately; nursed it and helped it recover.
A few days later, the sage witnessed the rat being chased by a cat. The rat had become a pet animal by that time.
The sage did not want to lose the rat. Therefore, he turned it into a cat using a mantra (magic spell) so that it could not be hurt by any other cat. But soon a dog was seen harassing the cat. This time the sage turned the cat into a dog.
But even this was not a permanent solution to the problem because this time a tiger arrived in the area. To save the cat from the tiger’s hand, the sage turned it into a tiger. The tiger’s problem was thus solved.
Despite being disguised as a tiger, the rat still didn’t find any peace of mind.
Everyone in the area knew the sage and his tiger. So, even though the rat was in the guise of a tiger, everyone treated him as a rat.
But in his mind, the rat imagined himself as a tiger and wanted to influence everyone accordingly.
He realized that as long as the sage was alive, the villagers would not forget the tiger’s past and would continue to treat him as a rat. So, he plotted to kill the sage.
The sage was a wise man. He was able to read the secret purpose of the tiger’s mind.
He immediately turned it back into a rat and said, “Everyone, big or small, need to remain thankful and humble for what they have. Otherwise, fall is inevitable.”
Lessons to learn: Humility manifests the purity of mind and soul. When ambition exceeds humility, we fall.
05. Right and Wrong
This story is about the humility of Bankei Yōtaku, a Japanese Rinzai Zen master. Once some students came to him and complained that a student had been caught stealing.
All the students demanded the expulsion of the thief. But Bankei ignored their claim.
A few days later, the incident was repeated for the second time. Bankei again ignored the students’ demand.
But this time the students filed a petition that if the student accused of theft was not expelled, they would leave Bankei at once.
After hearing the news of the petition, the Zen master called everyone into his office.
He said, “You are wise brothers. You know what is right and what is not right. You may go somewhere else to study if you wish. But this poor fellow cannot tell 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. “
Hearing this, the accused student broke down in tears and took an oath to refrain from stealing.
Lessons to learn: Often, a simple act of humility can achieve what strict action cannot.
06. Zen Bow, Zen Arrow
Once upon a time, some archery students were practicing archery in their usual manner. There was a Zen Master present there who noticed that a student was missing marks repeatedly.
He commented, “It is his desire to win that drains him of power.”
Lessons to learn: Competition leads to loss of strength. Your body and mind will be healthier if you handle most things with humility and tolerance.