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108 Zen Parables

·1239 words·6 mins·
book-swap 2022 reading-challenge-2022
Jerry S
Jerry S
Table of Contents
$2.99 on Amazon when I bought the Kindle version!


I’ve read other Zen books but this’ll be the first one I actually post about. It’s an easy read and the stories are not really full fledged stories per se. They’re more like Zen Tweets with most stories being not more than 240 characters. Ok, fine, I didn’t actually count the characters, but they’re short enough that I could read 2 to 3 stories on a 5 minute break at work. A faster reader would whiz through these stories lickety-split.

Favorite Quotes - Stories

I feel somewhat terrible because many of the stories are so short that the bits I’m including here are a good portion of the story. However, it still isn’t the entire story and the devil is in the details as they say. Additionally, there are many more I didn’t include that are still gems and amazing to read and reflect on.

The Highest Truth

“What is the highest truth of the holy Buddhist doctrine?” the emperor inquired.

“Vast emptiness… and not a trace of holiness,” the master replied.

I’ve encountered detractors of Zen/Buddhism in the past that have criticized Zen as a religion but this is a curious statement by the master of Zen. It’s almost like he abandons his own religion with it. It’s a common theme that other masters will say this and…actually mean it. That’s the hilarious part to me about Zen; that its own followers will seemingly abandon it. I don’t agree with the detractors, but Zen doesn’t mind having them. Zen likes dancing with its detractors.

Teach me everything!

The scholar then queried, “Why have you not taught everything?“

The master said, “Because it will not help you. Not everything can be said; some knowledge has to be experienced.”

This one is interesting with the way that it relates to my life experience. I can very well tell another person something and I can see or hear them agree and consent with head nods; they agree in theory, mentally, but they don’t agree in life, with their being.

It has happened in the other direction too. It’s a curious thing to recognize, where I can listen to someone explaining something that I can see they absolutely believe in, but them explaining it won’t actually help me live any of it for myself.

They’re just words being tossed around, not experience.

This leads me to parents. Parents try to teach us so much, but it’s like swimming. You can explain it, but until your child jumps into the pool they’ll never know how to swim. Until the child swallows water and feels their chest convulsing, they won’t understand why parents are so worried that they’ll drown…because what is drowning if not just another word?

The Tree Has Fruit

“When a tree bears fruit generously, its branches bend lower and lower. Just so a true sage is humble.

When a tree is fruitless, its branches rise arrogantly higher and higher. Just so a fool always considers himself better than his neighbor.”

This was just mind-blowing. Trees, huh? What kind of tree am I?

I Want An Invisible Sutra

Now it is often said that Tetsugen made three sets of sutras and that the first two invisible sets surpass even the last.

The summary of Tetsugen’s life is stellar in its conclusion. I wish to leave at least one invisible sutras during my life. Whatever that means.

A Snake Bites, I Behead

“The nature of a snake is to bite, but it does not change my nature - to help,” the monk replied.

The monk may have helped the snake in this story, but I definitely would’ve beheaded it.

Express Yourself No More Than Natural

Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.

Don’t be who I’m not, until, that is, I become someone else.

Full Surrender

“You may have not only my home but my life as well,” and he walked up to the demon and put his head into the demon’s mouth.

In that moment of full surrender, …

Yes! I like the use of the word demon here for personal reasons. I purposefully removed the end of the quote. You can imagine an ending, it should be obvious enough.

I need to find my demons and feed them my head and surrender my life to them, metaphorically speaking.

Break All the Laws

He is like a person who, after breaking just one precept of righteousness, thinks, “I’ve broken one, so I might as well abandon them all.”

Bending the rules or breaking the rules. Once you break one maybe you break another. And another? And another? No one is ever 100% righteous, no one, but to keep aiming for it is the key. It’s easy to give up the fight. That reminds me of a quote from Sense8.

When you make a mistake you have two choices: either you live with it or you fix it.

Wolfgang Bogdanow, ;-)

I would like to think I try and fix my mistakes but I admit that I’m often too late in trying to correct them. I’m trying to be quicker about that. I’ve broken precepts that were righteous and then regretted it.

I’ll try to fix it, but if I keep breaking rules and still expect to have pre-break benefits I should wonder why I haven’t adjusted my expectations to match my new post-break behavior.

I’ll try to keep aiming higher.

Trapped by Belief

Finally, his son had no choice but to leave. Thus father and son lost each other forever.

When a person is caught by belief in a doctrine, he loses all his freedom.

Well, first I have to just reproduce this quote here because this tidbit reminds me of a different quote I read by Jorge Luis Borges.

Imprisoned by the book, I didn’t dare to go outside.

Jorge Luis Borges

I include the quote because books and ideas are apt to create beliefs in us. The Bible and other equivalent books like the Torah and Quran can serve as prime examples. Long ago, before books and ideas we would get our beliefs from other sources like people, our own natural experiences and our intuition. Nowadays we still get our beliefs from varied sources like social media, news outlets, other people, books, etc. That brings me to the following picture:

I have to include this photo I took of a sign in front of a bookstore.

You’ll have to buy the book and read the story, but yes, it seems the father chooses to abandon his own son because of a belief he has. It makes me wonder how many unchecked beliefs I’ve got left in me that would make me abandon a good thing, or worse, myself. I’ve been trying to eliminate my beliefs, but it seems when I get rid of one, another comes to take its place.

And finally, I would like to rephrase the quote from the book because I have seen this happen in real life. I’m sure that to some extent we all have either seen it or lived it.

Finally, her daughter had no choice but to leave. Thus mother and daughter lost each other forever.

When a person is caught by belief in a doctrine, she loses all her freedom.