The Corners of The Mind The Sound of One Hand
The Corners of The Mind
There was once a group of learned
Buddhist monks who spent all their time in scholastic
debate. As part of their banter they would often wonder, half-joking, half-seriously, which
one of them would attain enlightenment first. Whenever this topic came up, the only thing
they could all agree on was that it would not be Stupid, the illiterate monk who was capable
only of sweeping the monastery floor and whom nobody has any time for. Of course, it was
Stupid who got enlightened first. The jealous monks went to the Abbot. How come Stupid
had attained enlightenment first? Had he been overhearing their intellectual conversations?
"Not at all," replied the Abbot. "It's just that while he was sweeping the corners of the
monastery he made sure he was also sweeping the corners of his mind."
Searching for Buddha
A monk set off on a long pilgrimage
to find the Buddha. He devoted many years
to his search until he finally reached the land where the Buddha was said to live.
While crossing the river to this country, the monk looked around as the boatman
rowed. He noticed something floating towards them. As it got closer, he realized
that it was the corpse of a person. When it drifted so close that he could almost
touch it, he suddenly recognized the dead body - it was his own! He lost all control
and wailed at the sight of himself, still and lifeless, drifting along the river's currents.
That moment was the beginning of his liberation.
Once there were three people who
took a walk in the country. They happened to see a man standing
on a hill. One of them said, "I guess he is standing on a hill to search for lost cattle."
"No," the second said, "I think he is trying to find a friend who has wandered off somewhere."
Whereas the third said,"No, he is simply enjoying the summer breeze."
As there was no definite conclusion, they went up the hill and asked him,"Are you searching for strayed cattle?"
"No," he replied.
"Are you looking for your friend?"
"Are you enjoying the cool breeze?"
"No," yet again.
"Then why are you stading on the hill?"
"I am just standing" was the answer.
The Muddy Road
Two monks were walking down a muddy
road, and came across a young woman
trying to cross it but unable to avoid a large pool of water. The first monk was
inclined just to walk on. The second monk promptly helped the woman by lifting
her up and carrying her across. Following this incident the two monks walked on,
but there was obvious tension between them. After a while the first monk, unable
to contain his anger any longer, remonstrated with the second, saying,"You know
it is against our vows to touch a woman, why did you lift her up and carry her?"
The second monk replied,"I may have carried her back there but you are still
carrying her and you haven't let her go."
Heaven and Hell
A huge, rough samurai once went to
see a little monk, hoping to acquire the secrets of the universe.
"Monk," he said, in a voice accustomed to instant obedience. "teach me about heaven and hell."
The little monk looked up at the
mighty warrior in silence. Then, after a moment, he said to the
samurai with utter disdain, "Teach YOU about heaven and hell? I couldn't teach you about
anything. You're dirty. You smell. Your blade is rusty. you're a disgrace, an embarrassment to the
samurai class. Get out of my sight at once. I can't stand you!"
The samurai was furious. He began
to shake all over from the anger that raced through him. A red
flush spread over his face; he was speechless with rage. Quickly, menacingly, he pulled out his
sword and raised it above his head, preparing to slay the monk.
"That's hell." said the little monk quietly.
The samurai was overwhelmed. Stunned.
The compassion and surrender of this little man who had
offered his life to give this teaching about hell! He slowly lowered his sword, filled with gratitude,
and for reasons he could not explain his heart became suddenly peaceful.
"And that's heaven," said the monk softly.
Empty Your Cup
A university professor once visited
Nanin, a Japanese Zen master to inquire
about Zen. Nanin served the man tea, pouring his visitor's cup full and continued
pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain
himself. "It is full to overflowing. No more will go in!" he said.
Nanin replied, "Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions and speculations.
How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
A Wishing Tree
There is a parable about a poor man
walking through the woods reflecting upon his
many troubles. He stopped to rest against a tree, a magical tree that would instantly
grant the wishes of anyone who came in contact with it. He realized he was thirsty and
wished for a drink. Instantly a cup of cool water was in his hand. Shocked, he looked
at the water, he decided it was safe and drank it. He then realized he was hungry and
wished he had something to eat. A meal appeared before him.
"My wishes are being granted," he
thought in disbelief. "Well, then I wish for a beautiful
home of my own," he said out loud. The home appeared in the meadow before him. A huge
smile crossed his face as he wished for servants to take care of the house. When they
appeared he realized he had somehow been blessed with an incredible power and he wished
for a beautiful, loving, intelligent woman to share his good fortune.
"Wait a minute, this is ridiculous,"
said the man to the woman. "I'm not this lucky. This can't
happen to me." As he spoke...everything disappeared. He shook his head and said, "I knew it,"
then walked away thinking about his many troubles.
After winning several archery contests,
the young and rather boastful champion
challenged a Zen master who was renowned for his skill as an archer. The young
man demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's
eye on his first try, and then split that arrow with his second shot. "There," he
said to the old man, "see if you can match that!" Undisturbed, the master did
not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young archer to follow him up the
mountain. Curious about the old fellow's intentions, the champion followed him
high into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather
flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and
certainly perilous bridge, the old master picked a far away tree as a target, drew
his bow, and fired a clean, direct hit. "Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully
stepped back onto the safe ground. Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless
and beckoning abyss, the young man could not force himself to step out onto the log,
no less shoot at a target. "You have much skill with your bow," the master said,
sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the
mind that lets loose the shot."
Time To Learn
A young but earnest Zen student approached
his teacher, and asked the Zen Master:
"If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen."
The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years."
The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to
learn fast -- How long then ?"
Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years."
"But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?" asked the student.
"Thirty years," replied the Master.
"But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I
will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that ?"
Replied the Master," When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."
One day Chuang Tzu and a friend were
walking by a river. "Look at the fish
swimming about," said Chuang Tzu, "They are really enjoying themselves."
"You are not a fish," replied the
friend, "So you can't truly know that they are
"You are not me," said Chuang Tzu.
"So how do you know that I do not know that the
fish are enjoying themselves?"
In the early days of the Meiji era
there lived a well known wrestler called O-nami, Great Waves.
O-nami was immensely strong and knew the art of wrestling. In his private bouts he defeated
even his teacher, but in public he was so bashful that his own pupils threw him.
O-nami felt he should go to a Zen
master for help. Hakuju, a wandering teacher, was stopping
in a little temple nearby, so O-nami went to see him and told him of his trouble.
"Great Waves is your name," the teacher
advised, "so stay in this temple tonight, Imagine that
you are those billows. You are no longer a wrestler who is afraid. You are those huge waves
sweeping everything before them, swallowing in all their path. Do this and you will be the
greatest wrestler in the land."
The teacher retired. O-nami sat in
meditation trying to imagine himself as waves. He thought of
many different things. Then gradually he turned more and more to the feeling of the waves. As
the night advanced the waves became larger and larger. They swept away the flowers in their
vases. Even the Buddha in the shrine was inundated. Before dawn the temple was nothing but
the ebb and flow of an immense sea.
In the morning the teacher found
O-nami meditating, a faint smile on his face. He patted the
wrestler's shoulder. "Now nothing can disturb you," he said. "You are those waves. You will
sweep everything before you."
The same day O-nami entered the wrestling
contests and won. After that, no one in Japan was
able to defeat him.
Buddha told a parable in sutra:
A man traveling across a field encountered
a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him.
Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself
down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked
down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black,
little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man
saw a lucious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry
with the other. How sweet it tasted!
Two people are lost in the desert.
They are dying from hunger and thirst. Finally, they come to a high
wall. On the other side they can hear the sound of a waterfall and birds singing. Above, they can see
the branches of a lush tree extending over the top of the wall. Its fruit look delicious.
One of them manages to climb over
the wall and disappears down the other side. The other, instead,
returns to the desert to help other lost travelers find their way to the oasis.
The Sound of one hand
The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai,
Silent Thunder. He had a little protege named Toyo who was
only twelve years old. Toyo saw the other disciples visit the master's room each morning and evening
to receive instructions in sanzen, or personal guidance, in which they were given koans to stop
Toyo wished to do sanzen also. "Wait
a while," said Mokurai. "You are too young."
But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.
In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai's sanzen room. He struck
the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit
before the master in respectful silence.
"You can hear the sound of two hands
when they clap together," said Mokurai. "Now show me the
sound of one hand."
Toyo bowed and went to his room to
consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music
of the geishas. "Ah, I have it!" he proclaimed.
The next evening, when his teacher
asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play
the music of the geishas.
"No, no," said Mokurai. "That will
never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You've not got it at all."
Thinking that the music might interrupt, Toyo moved his adobe to a quiet place. He meditated again.
"What can the sound of one hand be?" He happened to hear some water dripping. "I have it," imagined
When he next appeared before his
teacher, Toyo imitated dripping water. "What's that?" asked
Mokurai. "That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again."
In vain, Toyo meditated to hear the
sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound
was rejected. He heard the cry of an owl. This was also refused. The sound of one hand was not the
For more than ten times Toyo visited
Mokurai with different sounds. "I could collect no more," he explained
later, "so I reached the soundless sound."
Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.
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