Spiritual Parables

This section on spiritual parables will be renewed with fresh parables periodically.

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era, received a university professor who who came to enquire about Zen.

Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor's cup full,and then kept on pouring.

The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. 'It is overfull. No more will go in!'

'Like this cup,' Nan-in said, 'you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?'


A Zen student came to Bankei and complained: "Master, I have an ungovernable temper. How can I cure it?'

'You have something very strange,' replied Bankei.'Let me see what you have.'

'Just now I cannot show it to you ' replied the other.

'When can you show it to me ?' asked Bankei

'It arises unexpectedly,' replied the student.

'Then,' concluded Bankei, it must not be your own true nature. If it were, you could show it to me any time. When you were born, you did not have it, and your parents did not give it to you. Think that over.'

No Attachment to Dust

Zengetsu, a Chinese master of the tang dynasty, wrote the following advice for his pupils:

Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of the true Zen student.

When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.

Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.

Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.

A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may be only guarding his wisdom carefully.

Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from heaven themselves as does rain or snow.

Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbours discover you before you make yourself known to them.

A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.

To a sincere student, everyday is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.

Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right or wrong.

Some things though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave an immediate appreciation.

Live with cause and leave the results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.

Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were once traveling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.

Coming around the bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

'Come on girl, said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in her arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. 'We monks donít go near females,' he told Tanzan, 'especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?'

'I left the girl there,' said Tanzan. 'Are you still carrying her?'

In Dreamland

'Our schoolmaster used to take a nap every afternoon,' related a disciple of Soyen Shaku. 'We children asked him and he told us: "I go to the dreamland to meet the old sages just as Confucius did." When Confucius slept, he would dream of ancient sages and later tell his followers about them.

'It was extremely hot one day so some of us took a nap. Our schoolmaster scolded us. "We went to dreamland to meet the ancient sages the same as Confucius did." we explained.

'What was the message from those sages?" our schoolmaster demanded. One of us replied:

"We went to the dreamland and met the sages and asked them if our schoolmaster came there every afternoon but they said they had never seen any such fellow."  (From Zen Flesh, Zen Bones Compiled by Paul Reps , Arkana Penguin)

Why ?

On the street, I saw a small girl cold and shivering in a thin dress, with little hope of a decent meal. I became angry and said to God: 'Why did you permit this? Why don't you do something about it?'

For a while God said nothing. That night however, he replied quite suddenly: 'I certainly did something about it.

I made you.'

From 'Chicken Soup for the Soul'


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