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Zen  Extracts

Close your eyes and you will see clearly.
Cease to listen and you will hear truth.
Be silent and your heart will sing.
Seek no contacts and you will find union.
Be still and you will move forward on the tide of the spirit.
Be gentle and you will need no strength.
Be patient and you will achieve all things.
Be humble and you will remain entire.
Taoist meditation



When they curiously question thee, seeking to know what It is,
Do not affirm anything, and do not deny anything.
For whatsoever is affirmed is not true,
And whatsoever is denied is not true.
How shall anyone say truly what That may be
While he has not himself fully won to What Is?
And, after he has won, what word is to be sent from a Region
Where the chariot of speech finds no track on which to go?
Therefore, to their questionings offer them silence only,
Silence and a finger pointing the Way.
Buddhist verse
(Alan Watts, "The Spirit of Zen", 1958)



The Useless

Hui Tzu said to Chuang Tzu:
"All your teaching is centered on what has no use." 

Chuang replied:
"If you have no appreciation for what has no use
You cannot begin to talk about what can be used.
The earth, for example, is broad and vast
But of all this expanse a man uses only a few inches
Upon which he happens to be standing.
Now suppose you suddenly take away
All that he is not actually using
So that all around his feet a gulf
Yawns, and he stands in the void,
With nowhere solid except right under each foot:
How long will he be able to use what he is using?" 

Hui Tzu said:  "It would cease to serve any purpose." 

Chuang Tzu concluded:
        "This shows
        The absolute necessity
        Of what has 'no use.'"


Bodhidharma was brought before the Emperor Wu, who was anxious to see this great sage and to obtain from him some approval of his own devout works.  Therefore he asked Bodhidharma:

"We have built temples, copied holy scriptures, ordered monks and nuns to be converted.  Is there any merit, Reverend Sir, in our conduct?"

"No merit at all."

The Emperor, somewhat taken aback, thought that such an answer was upsetting the whole teaching, and inquired again:

"What, then, is the holy truth, the first principle?"

"In vast emptiness there is nothing holy."

"Who, then, are you to stand before me?"

"I know not, your Majesty."

(Alan Watts, "The Spirit of Zen", 1958)


Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo:  "You are now advanced in years.  Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?"    Po Lo replied:  "A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance.  But the superlative horse one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air.  The talents of my sons lie on a lower plane altogether; they can tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse.  I have a friend, however, one Chiu-fang Kao, a hawker of fuel and vegetables, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior.  Pray see him."

Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed.  Three months later, he returned with the news that he had found one.  "It is now in Shach'iu" he added.  "What kind of a horse is it?"  asked the Duke.  "Oh, it is a dun-colored mare," was the reply.  However, someone being sent to fetch it, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion!  Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo.  "That friend of yours," he said, "whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it.  Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast's color or sex!  What on earth can he know about horses?"    Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction.  "Has he really got as far as that?"  he cried.  "Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together.  There is no comparison between us.  What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism.  In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external.  He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see.  He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at.  So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses."

       When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.
Taoist tale
(Jerome Salinger, "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters")



The Invincible Spirit

At that time the Third Tokugawa Shogun Iemitsu had a favorite little monkey.  The monkey was very quick.  One day Iemitsu let his attending retainers strike at it, but no one could hit it.  Iemitsu ordered Yagyu, his Sword Master, to do the same, but it was so agile that not even Yagyu could hit it.

"As its movement is as agile as lightning the only person who can strike it would be Takuan Osho of the Tokaiji temple," Yagyu told Iemitsu, who immediately sent a messenger to fetch Takuan.

"Osho, try to strike that monkey."

Osho glared at it on Iemitsu's lap and then took out his nyoi (his priest's staff).  He was about to strike the monkey when it immediately cried out and prostrated itself before Osho, as if begging for mercy.  Iemitsu and his attendants were amazed at his skill and praised Takuan.  Whereupon Takuan laughed loudly and said:

"This is nothing.  As long as Lord Yagyu and the other Lords worried in case they might strike the Shogun if they missed the monkey sitting on his lap, their stroke lacked spirit.  Because I intended to strike even the lap of the Shogun, the monkey felt my spirit and must have been frightened by it."

(Nobuko Hirose, "Immovable Wisdom", 1992)


The master said, "My child, if you desire after God, God shall come to you."  The disciple did not understand his master fully.

One day both went to bathe in a river, and the master said, "Plunge in," and the boy did so.  In a moment the master was upon him, holding him down.  He would not let the boy come up.  When the boy struggled and was exhausted, he let him go.

"Yes, my child, how did you feel there?"    "Oh, the desire for a breath of air!"    "Do you have that kind of desire for God?"    "No, sir."    "Have that kind of desire for God and you shall have God." 



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