Koan and Other Zen Stories



1. 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 overfull. 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?"

2. Hotei, the Happy Chinaman

Hotei lived in the T'ang dynasty. He had no desire to call himself a Zen master or to gather many disciples about him. Instead he walked the streets with a big sack into which he would put gifts of candy, fruit, or doughnuts. These he would give to children who gathered around him to play. He established a kindergarten of the streets.
Whenever he met a Zen devotee he would extend his hand and say: "Give me one penny." And if anyone asked him to return to a temple to teach, again he would reply: "Give me one penny."
Once as he was about his play-work another Zen master happened along and inquired: "What is the significance of Zen?"
Hotei immediately plopped his sack down on the ground in silent answer.
"Then," asked the other, "what is the actualization of Zen?"
At once Hotei swung the sack over his shoulder and continued on his way.