Last updated on August 23rd, 2023.
Self-enlightenment and illumination are crucial if you’re to attain life balance, and one way to reach this point is by reading Zen stories. The parables give you a lot to think of, with many stories reflecting on what is important in life. Zen parables have different meanings depending on who is reading them, and they help you to rediscover what is important to your life. But which Zen stories can you share with your neighbors?
A Zen story about a Zen master who has an encounter with a thief is perfect for when you have forgotten what’s important in your life. Ideally, a Zen story about Tanzan and Ekido’s journey encounter with a young female is perfect for people who don’t know when to let go.
This article will look at what a Zen story is called, what makes it a Zen story and elaborate on the two Zen stories in-depth that you can share with your neighbors and enlighten them.
What is a Zen Story Called?
Zen stories are sometimes referred to as paradoxical riddles or extended versions of koans, whose primary purpose is to enlighten and aid students in realizing their true nature. Zen stories have been passed down through generations, and they’re all open to different interpretations.
The nature of Zen stories is that anyone can relate to them, and you can use the stories to reflect your life choices. Although there’s no correct ‘answer’ or interpretation to any Zen stories, they’re a means of reflection, and most of them focus on the things we take for granted, like life, peace, and beauty.
Zen masters used these stories to remind students and anyone who reads them of the little things that matter in life. They’re also used to instill moral rights and upbringing in society, and they’re known to change someone’s perspective whenever they start studying zen Buddhism.
What Makes a Zen Story a ‘Zen Story?’
Despite its name, a Zen story reads like a parable and not like a story. It’s usually short but has a more profound message embedded within. There’s always a cliffhanger at the end of the story, leaving it open to multiple interpretations.
The story usually involves a Zen master or student, and there are always conflicting forces playing against each other, if not directly. For instance, there’s always someone struggling to grasp certain concepts or understand them, with the other party enlightened on the same.
The enlightened party is the one that conveys wisdom, although not directly, to the struggling party. Although not common, there’s always a bit of confrontation between the two, with the enlightened party always coming on top.
However, a Zen story doesn’t have to involve two confronting parties, as it can involve someone learning a lesson through undesirable events, like the Cliffhanger Zen story. For a Zen story to qualify as such, there should be a moral lesson learned or a piece of advice to help with enlightenment.
2 Short Zen Stories to Share with your Neighbors
Zen stories are a great way of passing wisdom and enlightenment to other people, including your neighbors. The best Zen stories should be relatable and help to enlighten listeners. However, it’s best to avoid a sarcastic voice or tone when telling these stories to avoid coming out as offensive and insensitive to listeners.
Although there are many Zen stories you can share with your neighbors, here are the ideal two that help to shed light on important things in life:
A ‘Poor’ Thief and a Zen Master
At the foot of a famous Japanese mountain lived Ryokan, a dedicated Zen master who embraced a life of simplicity.
While he was away in the evening, a local thief broke into his hut looking for anything to steal but was shocked to find nothing of value. Ryokan returned and found the thief in his house, and he broke the silence by speaking calmly to him:
“You have traveled a long way to visit me, and it would be impolite to return empty-handed. Kindly have my clothes as a gift.”
Although the thief was shocked by the calm response from Ryokan, he still took the clothes and ran off.
Ryokan went outside his house naked, watching the full moon.
“Poor man,” he sighed, “I wish I could have gifted him this beautiful moon.”
The Zen story is open to many interpretations, with the best of them being finding happiness in smaller things. It goes to show that you can’t put a price on things that make you authentically happy, and no one can rob you of happiness if you have achieved the highest levels of enlightenment.
Amidst heavy rain, two monk friends, Tanzan and Ekido, were traveling down a muddy road. They came to an intersection around a corner and found a lovely young girl struggling to cross.
Tanzan offered to carry the girl over the mud until they crossed the intersection. The entire time, Ekido remained quiet and didn’t speak to Tanzan until they reached their lodging that night.
He struggled with silence and decided to break it:
“We monks avoid physical contact with females,” he spoke softly, “especially young and attractive ones, as it’s dangerous. I’m puzzled why you did that.”
Tanzan paused for a second and said:
“I left the girl there, but you’re still carrying her.”
The Zen story shows us we’re often burdened by the things we give attention to, while it’s easier to let them go. It can also mean that most of the problems we create through overthinking.
It could also be interpreted that action might look immoral, but our intentions could be pure.
Zen stories are great for helping people attain enlightenment and self-awareness, knowing that everything is made of energy and we are all one. They’re open to different interpretations, depending on who is reading them, and there’s no one definite ‘answer’ to the story. They mostly focus on contentment and appreciating what’s important in life. Most of them address the internal conflicts that we face daily and the things we take for granted. There’re hundreds of Zen stories to tell, but the ones mentioned here are easy to remember and memorize.