Master Bankei’s talks were attended not only by Zen students but by persons of all ranks and sects. He never quoted sutras not indulged in scholastic dissertations. Instead, his words were spoken directly from his heart to the hearts of his listeners.
His large audience angered a priest of the Nichiren sect because the adherents had left to hear about Zen. The self-centered Nichiren priest came to the temple, determined to have a debate with Bankei.
“Hey, Zen teacher!” he called out. “Wait a minute. Whoever respects you will obey what you say, but a man like myself does not respect you. Can you make me obey you?”

“Come up beside me and I will show you,” said Bankei.
Proudly the priest pushed his way through the crowd to the teacher.
Bankei smiled. “Come over to my left side.”
The priest obeyed.
“No,” said Bankei, “we may talk better if you are on the right side. Step over here.”
The priest proudly stepped over to the right.
“You see,” observed Bankei, “you are obeying me and I think you are a very gentle person. Now sit down and listen.”



Most of us train our mind to learn the difference between the right and wrong. For the classical question of is the glass half full or half empty all we can think is from an optimists point of view it is half full and from a pessimists point of view it is half empty. Most of us do not think that the glass is too large for the amount of water contained therein. Thus, it is neither half full nor half empty. And, there are many other “answers” equally as correct. The “trick” is to imagine them and exercise the mind. Zen Buddhism is all about finding all the different ways. Koans are used as the tool to achieve it.
Here’s another good example more than one solution.

Then have a cup of tea

JOSHU asked a monk who appeared for the first time in the hall, “Have I ever seen you here before?” The monk answered, “No sir, you have not.” “Then have a cup of tea,” said Joshu. He turned to another monk. “Have I ever seen you here before?” he said. “Yes sir, of course you have,” said the second monk. “Then have a cup of tea,” said Joshu. Later, the managing monk of the monastery asked Joshu, “How is it that you make the same offer of tea whatever the reply to your question?” At this Joshu shouted, “Manager, are you still here?” “Of course, master!” the manager answered. “Then have a cup of tea,” said Joshu.

Classically, koans are attractive paradoxes to be meditated on; their purpose is to help one to enlightenment by temporarily jamming normal cognitive processing so that something more interesting can happen (this practice is associated with Rinzai Zen Buddhism).  Koans help a person understand the inadequacy of logical reasoning. I will share some koans with you all. But first we need to unlearn that we know…  None of the koans are my creations and I have read it from various sources.

A Cup of Tea

Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is over full. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

Many a times I have seen my self hear a person and I am just waiting for him to finish so that I can express my views after that. My mind is like the cup of tea that is full. I am not ready to hear anything that he is saying. I am more interested in getting my views through him and he too is in the same state of mind. Thus all we do is argue / shout and come back happy saying that I said this to him… It would be nice if I could just be like an empty cup. Hear out the person, if I like his views take it or just drop it. I still loose nothing.

Zen teaches us to live in the moment and be part of what we are doing. Here are some koans which help us understand the important of being part of our work and being in the present.

The First Principle

THE MASTER Kosen drew the words “The First Principle” which are carved over the gate of the Oaku Temple in Kyoto. He drew them with his brush on a sheet of paper later they were carved in wood. A pupil of the master had mixed the ink for him, and stood by, watching the master’s calligraphy. This pupil said, “Not so good!” Kosen tried again. The pupil said: “That’s worse than the first one!” and Kosen tried again. After the sixty-fourth try, the ink was running low, and the pupil went out to mix some more. Left alone, undistracted by any critical eye watching him, Kosen made one more quick drawing with the last of the ink. When the pupil returned, he took a good look at this latest effort. “A masterpiece!” he said.

I am an integral part of my work… When I want to make a product which my customers would like, I have to be the customer first and when I realize what I like I can make it.

Five pounds of flax

THE MASTER Tozan was weighing some flax. A monk came up to him in the storeroom and said, “Tell me, what is Buddha?” Tozan answered, “Here: five pounds of flax.”

One does not study religion or learn it. One has to practice it every moment i.e. what you do is your religion and beliefs. If you do not like, don’t do it. But then many of us do not understand if it like our work or not. So how do we find this way.

What is the Way

A MASTER who lived as a hermit on a mountain was asked by a monk, “What is the Way?”
 “What a fine mountain this is,” the master said in reply. “I am not asking you about the mountain, but about the Way.” “So long as you cannot go beyond the mountain, my son, you cannot reach the Way,” replied the master.

Appreciate what you have. Only then do we find the way.  And to appreciate what we have around us we have to live in the present. Here is a classic koan that I just love –

A Parable

BUDDHA told this parable: A traveler, fleeing a tiger who was chasing him, ran till he came to the edge of a cliff. There he caught hold of a thick vine, and swung himself over the edge. Above him the tiger snarled. Below him he heard another snarl, and behold, there was another tiger, peering up at him. The vine suspended him midway between two tigers. Two mice, a white mouse and a black mouse, began to gnaw at the vine. He could see they were quickly eating it through. Then in front of him on the cliffside he saw a luscious bunch of grapes. Holding onto the vine with one hand, he reached and picked a grape with the other.

How delicious!