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Children of His Majesty

Yamaoka Tesshu was a tutor of the emperor. He was also a master of fencing and a profound student of Zen. His home was the abode of vagabonds. He had but one suit of clothes, for they kept him always poor. The emperor, observing how worn his garments were, gave Yamaoka some money to buy [...]

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What Are You Doing! What Are You Saying!

In modern times a great deal of nonsense is talked about masters and disciples, and about the inheritance of a master’s teaching by favorite pupils, entitling them to pass the truth on to their adherents. Of course Zen should be imparted in this way, from heart to heart, and in the past it was really [...]

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One Note of Zen

After Kakua visited the emperor he disappeared and no one knew what became of him. He was the first Japanese to study Zen in China, but since he showed nothing of it, save one note, he is not remembered for having brought Zen into his country. Kakua visited China and accepted the true teaching. He [...]

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The Most Valuable Thing in the World

Sozan, a Chinese Zen master, was asked by a student: “What is the most valuable thing in the world?” The master replied: “The head of a dead cat.” “Why is the head of a dead cat the most valuable thing in the world?” inquired the student. Sozan replied: “Because no one can name its price.”

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Learning To Be Silent

The pupils of the Tendai school used to study meditation before Zen entered Japan. Four of them who were intimate friends promised one another to observe seven days of silence. On the first day all were silent. Their meditation had begun auspiciously, but when night came and the oil lamps were growing dim one of [...]

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Five Short Chapters on Change

Chapter 1: I walk down a street and there’s a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. It takes forever to get out. It’s my fault. Chapter 2: I walk down the same street. I fall in the hole again. It still takes a long time to get out. It’s not my fault. Chapter [...]

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The Sword of Damocles

There once was a king named Dionysius who ruled in Syracuse, the richest city in Sicily. He lived in a fine palace where there were many beautiful and costly things, and he was waited upon by a host of servants who were always ready to do his bidding. Naturally, because Dionysius had so much wealth [...]

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Four Magic Words

Long ago an Eastern monarch called his wise men together and asked them to invent a motto, a few magic words that would help him in time of trial or distress. It must be brief enough to be engraved on a ring to be ever present. It must be appropriate to every situation, as useful [...]

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The Sweetest Strawberry

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 [...]

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Two Wolves

A Native American grandfather telling his young grandson that inside every man, there are always two wolves struggling with each other. The first is the wolf of peace, love and kindness. The other wolf is fear, greed and hatred. “Which wolf will win?”, asked the grandson curiously. To which, the grandfather replied, “The one you [...]

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