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Zen Koans - Zen Quotes - Zen Sayings - Zen Proverbs

The Zen school of Buddhism began in 7th century China, then spread to Vietnam, Korea, and Japan. The word "Zen" comes from the Japanese.

Zen emphasizes direct experience and enlightenment in contrast to rote learning of classical texts. A primary tool of Zen teaching is the use of Koans. The word "Koan" also comes to us from the Japanese.

Koans are insightful stories, dialogs, assertions, and questions that are designed to defy rational analysis, but provoke an "Aha" moment when the listener "gets it" - intuitively understands the teaching - "groks it" to use the terminology of Robert A. Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land. If there is one koan that best characterizes the nature of the koan, it is the well known, "What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?"

May you find value in these classic Zen Koans and quotes about Zen.

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Zen Koans

Overflowing Cup of Tea
The Zen Master poured his visitor's teacup full, and then kept pouring.
The visitor watched until he could no longer restrain himself.
"It is overfull. No more will go in!"
"Like this cup," the Zen Master said,
"you are full of your own opinions and assumptions.
How can you learn truth until you first empty your cup?"

The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
A thief entered the little hut of a Zen Master,
but discovered there was nothing to steal.
The Zen Master discovered the thief.
"You have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler,
"and you should not return empty-handed.
Please take my clothes as a gift."
The thief was bewildered
but he took the clothes and slunk away.
The Zen Master sat naked, watching the moon.
"Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could have given him this beautiful moon."

The Sweetest Strawberry
A man was chased by a tiger.
Coming to a cliff, he grabbed the root of a vine and hung over the edge.
The tiger looked at him from above.
The man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting.
Two mice began to gnaw at the vine.
The man saw a luscious strawberry near him.
Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.
How sweet it tasted!

What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?

The True Path is the path on which there is no coming and no going.

Time to Die
A Zen teacher had a rare and priceless teacup.
One day, his precocious student accidentally broke the cup.
Hearing the footsteps of his teacher, the student held the pieces of the cup behind his back.
When the master appeared, he asked: "Why do people have to die?"
"This is natural," explained the teacher. "Everything has to die and has just so long to live."
The student showed the shattered cup, saying, "It was time for your cup to die."

Zen Quotes

The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
- Robert M. Pirsig

Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes.
Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
- Alan Watts

Children are natural Zen masters;
their world is brand new in each and every moment.
- John Bradshaw

Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine.
- Shunryu Suzuki

Zen Poems

The past is already past.
Don't try to regain it.
The present does not stay.
Don't try to touch it.

From moment to moment.
The future has not come;
Don't think about it
Beforehand.

Whatever comes to the eye,
Leave it be.
There are no commandments
To be kept;
There's no filth to be cleansed.

With empty mind really
Penetrated, the dharmas
Have no life.

When you can be like this,
You've completed
The ultimate attainment.
- Layman P'ang

Zen Sayings

We take refuge in pride because we are afraid to tell the truth to ourselves.
- Kakuzo Okakura

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
- Thich Nhat Hanh

The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.
- James Oppenheim

To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.
- Lao Tzu
(while Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching preceded Zen by a thousand years, it is very Zen-like)

Enlightenment is like the moon reflected on the water.
The moon does not get wet, nor is the water broken.
Although its light is wide and great,
The moon is reflected even in a puddle an inch wide.
The whole moon and the entire sky
Are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.
- Dogen

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?
- Dogen

When facing a single tree, if you look at a single one of its red leaves, you will not see all the others.
When the eye is not set on one leaf, and you face the tree with nothing at all in mind,
any number of leaves are visible to the eye without limit.
But if a single leaf holds the eye, it will be as if the remaining leaves were not there.
- Takuan Soto

Zen Proverbs

If you understand, things are just as they are;
if you do not understand, things are just as they are.
- Zen Proverb

Do not seek the truth,
only cease to cherish your opinions.
- Zen Proverb

Move and the way will open.
- Zen Proverb

No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.
- Zen Proverb

When you seek it, you cannot find it.
- Zen Proverb

Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind.
- Zen Proverb

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes,
and the grass grows by itself.
- Zen Proverb

Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.
- Zen Proverb

There is Buddha for those who don't know what he is, really.
There is no Buddha for those who know what he is, really.
- Zen Proverb


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