Sometimes a story can teach much more than entire philosophical treatises.
Religions from all over the world have used storytelling as a medium to convey their messages of wisdom.
One such religion is Buddhism, which for centuries has used parables, anecdotes, fables and tales to help people develop awareness by offering them enlightening insights and moral life lessons. This culminates in the teachings of Zen Buddhism, a tradition famous for using short stories extensively to arise in Buddhist monks and students a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of reality.
In this post, I’ve collected some of my favorite short Zen stories, translated in English by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki. Some of them are easy to understand, others need more time to ponder at, but all of them are profoundly meaningful.
Whether you’re Buddhist or simply a seeker on the spiritual path, these short stories will assist you in your journey to peace and contentment, if you pay them close attention and let them talk to the depths of your being.
May you learn and enjoy.
1. A Useless Life
A farmer got so old that he couldn’t work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch. His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there.
“He’s of no use any more,” the son thought to himself, “he doesn’t do anything!” One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wood coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in.
Without saying anything, the father climbed inside. After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff.
As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son. “I know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?” “What is it?” replied the son. “Throw me over the cliff, if you like,” said the father, “but save this good wood coffin. Your children might need to use it.”