Zen Koans

A koan is a statement or question and answer exchange between a student and a Zen master. The koan is often expressed in baffling, enigmatic language, while at the same time pointing to ultimate truth. “They cannot be solved by recourse to logical reasoning, but only by awakening a deeper level of consciousness beyond the rational intellect.”



Once you are at the top of a hundred foot pole, how do you climb higher?


What is your original face before you were born?


Zen master Basho said to his disciple, “When you have a staff, I will give it to you. If you have no staff, I will take it away from you.”


One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, “Give me the best piece of meat you have.”
“Everything in my shop is the best,” replied the butcher. “You cannot find any piece of meat that is not the best.” At these words, Banzan was enlightened.


A monk asked Fuketsu, “Without speaking, without silence, how can you express the truth?” Fuketsu replied, “I always remember springtime in southern China. The birds sing among the blooms of innumerable kinds of fragrant flowers.”


A monk asked Zen master Tozan, “What is Buddha?”
Tozan answered, “Three pounds of flax.”


A monk asked Unmon, “What is Buddha?”
Unmon answered, “A shit-wiping stick.”


Daibai asked Basho, “What is Buddha?”
Basho said, “This mind is Buddha.”


Shuzan held out his short staff and said, “If you call this a short staff, you oppose its true reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?”


A monk asked Joshu, “All things come from the One, but where does the One come from? Joshu answered, “When I was in the province of Shei, I made a shirt of wild hemp that weighed seven pounds.”


Two monks were arguing about a flag. One said, “The flag is moving.” The other said, “The wind is moving.” The sixth patriarch, Eno, happened to be passing by.
He told them, “Not the wind, not the flag – mind is moving.”


Joshu asked a monk, “Have you ever been here before?”
The monk replied, “Yes, I have.” Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.”
Joshu asked another visiting monk, “Have you ever been here before?”
The monk said, “No.” Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.”
An attendant monk asked Joshu, “Why do you say, ‘Have a cup of tea’ to one who had visited before and the same thing to one who has come to see you for the first time?”
Joshu called the attendant’s name. The attendant replied, “Yes, sir.”
Joshu said, “Have a cup of tea.”


Emperor asked Bodhidharma: “What is your teaching?”
Bodhidharma replied, “Vast emptiness and nothing that can be called holy.”


A monk asked Tao-wu: “What should I do when there is still a shadow of a doubt?”
Tao-wu replied, “Even Oneness when held onto is wide of the mark.”


A monk asked Hsuan-sha: “I am a newcomer in the monastery; please tell me how to proceed with my study.”
“Do you hear the murmuring stream?”
“Yes, Master.”
“If so, here is the entrance.”


Stop the ringing of the distant bell; walk without feet.


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