John Suler's Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors

FAQs and Incoming Mail

zen story

Where do these stories come from?

The stories come from my own collection of books on Zen, Buddhism, Taoism, and eastern philosophy. I make no claims about their authenticity as "true" Zen or Taoist stories. But they ARE stories that I've often seen in more than one book.

Where can I find a book with more Zen stories?

There are many books out now about Zen, and many of them contain stories. One classic book is Paul Reps "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" which contains lots of Zen stories and anecdotes. Many of the stories that I like best from Reps' book have been adapted for this site.

Can you provide one downloadable file that contains all the stories? It's a lot of work saving them one by one.

Um... I guess I could. But you might be better off buying one of those books containing Zen stories, like I mention above. I like to think of this site as a living entity - the stories and comments are growing and interacting as time goes by. It's hard to capture that in a text file. Also, I'm trying to take advantage of HYPERTEXT in this web site. For example, see those links to three other stories at the bottom of each story page. Those links take you to other stories with a similar or opposing theme compared to the story in front of you. If you use that method of circulating through the stories (rather than returning to the main page each time), you will find yourself creating a path through the land of Zen - your OWN path. There might be something very meaningful about the path you create for yourself! .... Lastly, consider getting a tablet!

How about some MORE Zen stories?

I maintain this site in my spare (ha!) time. About once a month or so I modify it, either by adding one or two new stories, new comments from readers, or other improvements (like an FAQ page!). In the meanwhile, read over the stories you've already seen. There's enough here right now to keep you busy on the path to enlightenment for..... well..... a lifetime. Remember, a Zen student may work on one koan for YEARS and not penetrate its full depth!

I don't like those comments on the same page as the stories. Can't you put them on separate pages?

I guess I could. But I think the comments are fascinating additions to the stories - even the "dumb" comments. There's a lot to learn even from ignorance. The purpose of this web site is to convey stories that you can tell your neighbors. To prepare yourself for the storytelling, it's a good idea to see how various people react to the stories. As you can see, your neighbor might not have the same reaction you did!

Are you a Zen Buddhist?

If I said I was, I'd be lying... then again, if I said I wasn't, I'd probably be lying too.

Incoming Mail

zen storyBe the Ball
The stories often remind me of one of my religion teachers at a Catholic High School. Father Jack often told similar stories in class. I wish I could remember some of them. Incidentally, he was a great golfer. I don't know if that was from Zen or the priesthood.

Like and Dislike
I've been reading these zen stories for few weeks. Two or three times a week, from three to five stories each time. It's really strange that some days I like every or almost every story and on other days I like only one or none. Maybe I should read them all again. Well, I won't do it yet.

Stupid Comments
Those comments are stupid. Zen doesn't need any commentary. I enjoy the stories more when I do not choose to read the comments following them. It's like having a high school year book signed. People use trivial cliches to sum up there limited grasp on the story. My grasp may be as limited as theirs from time to time. But when I am contemplating thoughts that fill my mind with wonder and retrospective thought, those comments can be a real buss kill. Wonderful revelations that I can barely grasp seem to fly away from my mind like birds into the void. But here I am writing a comment. I enjoy the irony.

A Better Life
I felt the need to sincerely thank you for providing such a useful and purposeful site. Each time I read a new story I can relate it directly to a situation in my life. It has improved my thinking and my relationships with other individuals immensely.

Fooled You!
Most of those who responded with comments have over-analyzed. In fact, the very act of asking for comments is a Zen trick. Understanding comes without words.

I'm used to Zen stories of high quality.. this was Crap.

How 'bout Some Links?
It may be helpful to provide a link on your page to some of the Buddhist pages on the web, especially some that could help explain Zen a little. i realize that the mere idea that Zen can be "explained" by simply reading about its history (or whatever can fit on a web page) is a dualistic delusion, but it may be a good way for new visitors to get their feet wet if they are intrigued by the stories. visitors might be surprised at the many schools of thought there are out there that are grouped under the Buddhist umbrella.

Song of the Bird
Thank you for sharing such a spiritual site with us, I do appreciate it. I have seen most of these stories in compilations by Anthony DeMello ("The Song of the Bird" etc...) . They are indeed a way of touching chords deep within us, and I am grateful for your efforts.

No Pain, No Gain
Such "litmus test" stories are fine classics, but they obscure the long term hard work needed to really make a success of the results. Ben Franklin's aphorism does capture that: "genius is 99% sweat.
If you have ice cream I will give you some.
If you have no ice cream I will take it away.
Yes, this is an ice cream koan.

Transcendental Unity
I like your stories so much that every week I post one of your stories out side my cubicle door at work. Its my "Zen story of the week" I guess you could say that I am telling my neighbors, eh? I am a Catholic, and I notice a lot of similarities between these stories and the parables I hear in church. I have the feeling that all religions come from the same source, and this just adds to that belief.

Who Owns Zen?
Are any of these stories copyrighted?? None of them seem to have an author. I read that you collected them from various books, so I would assume they have some sort of copy protection. Or, are all of these stories so old as to be exempt from ownership? I'd like to know, since there are a couple that I would LOVE to use for a project I'm working on.

Non Sequitur
One thing is for sure drugs will destroy your mind and your home... I love gett'n totaly smashed and eat'n weed cake then following it up with some E or coke. How 'bout that neighbor?

Campfire Chat
I loved your Zen stories, John. The reactions from others made the stories come alive, as if were were all sitting together around a virtual campfire. The thing I liked most about the experience is that there is no chance of virtual marshmallows getting burnt. ;-)

Getting Those Who Don't Get It
Which do you find more fascinating? The responses of the people that just don't get it, or the responses of the people that just don't get the people that just don't get it? Though this could be taken has having humorous intent I really do want to know. After reading the responses of people that "just don't get it" I caught myself wondering in the third person if I was missing something. Even though I am sure I am "missing" something I thought I'd ask you your thoughts on the "THEY" just don't get it train of thought.

Distracting Comments
I would like to be able to think about each story when I finish it. I'm kind of a compulsive reader, so I immediately begin reading the comments when I've finished each story. I do think it would be interesting to see what others have to say about the stories, but I'd rather form my own opinions without the distraction of others' response.

Deep, enlightening,pure and simple as a small refreshing spring that runs through your fingers.

Bark Like a Dog
If I were a zen master and if by some outside chance I were to read your collection I would say to no one in particular: The meaning of all is "bark like a dog." There is either understanding of what I said or not. That is or it isn't and that is Zen.

Stop This Injustice
I am touched by the Zen stories that you have put up. Though your intentions are good, I see an injustice. Just anybody and everybody is allowed to comment on Zen masters' actions. It hurts to read people's remarks. I value enlightenment, being with my master. So I also value what Zen masters have got in life. So kindly stop this injustice. Zen is for each one to experience his or her own way, others' comments only corrupt it.

From the Heart
I like it very much when academics speak with humility and communicate from the heart. That is my experience of your stories.

Shake It Up
There seem to be three links to other stories at the bottom of each page. To arrange the links between stories according to the themes you identify is to say that the only proper arrangement of the stories is the one you understand. It would be interesting if three random links were served with every new page view. I am suggesting going into your neatly kept garden and shaking the tree.

i think you made up some of the stories. sorry 4 the disturb

Come Again?
I think the relinquishment of desire is almost the totality of the path. Beyond this it becomes a choice. What one thinks about how one thinks about why one thinks about What one sees how one sees why one sees things the way they do. Subtle attention to the processes within one's self Maintaining the focus Minor adjustments. Tweaking the controls if you will. Looking at the world through colored glasses of one's choice. I like your sight and your site.

The Decline of Western Civilization
I just want to say that the way you've run this site, and the content on it is something I really appreciate. You used sickeningly futuristic technology, and incorporated into it ideas and philosophies that seem to be increasingly passed over as ancient and out of date jibber jabber, which it only is to the unenlightened, materialistic jerks of a capitalistic and competitive society.

Descartes in Saffron?
I was interested in several of the stories in that they seemed to cover the metaphysical and epistimological processes that Descartes tried to unravel in the Meditations. I am studying Philosophy (,Politics and Economics) at Oxford and have studied Descartes in some detail last year. I wonder if he read any Buddhist teaching!

Drop Dead
These are all interesting stories and worked well for Zen masters in enlightening their ripe disciples in the stories by dropping their minds dead. Reactions to these stories by us readers cannot help anyone since we all have our minds alive. Drop dead your own mind by finding its source.

Gilligan's Isle of Zen
My office mates and I were planning on adding a response to each Zen story that referenced Gilligan Island, such as "Yeah! I remember in such-n-such episode where Gilligan did the say thing to Skipper", or "The Professor said the same thing once on Gilligan Island!" These responses sure would have fit nicely with a few of the others! Lucky for you we are too lazy to carry out our ill-conceived malicious conspirosies.

Company Perk
Just found your page. My company will send you the bill for (wasting) my time. ;)

Americans Eat Paradox
Respondents seem to think the american mind is uniquely unsuited to gleaning wisdom from any of the stories. i wonder why that is ... also, and i guess this is a function of the low self esteem thing, nobody wants to accept paradox in these stories. the ones with the most open-ended conclusions seem to provoke a lot of outrage. hmmm...

Hot Dog!
A Zen student went up to a hot dog vendor and said, "make me one with everything."

Zen Munchies
I have been visiting the site in my spare time for a couple of days now, and was trying to read just a couple of stories at a time, in order to prolong my enjoyment, but the damn things are just like peanuts! naturally, i've gone through all of them as of this date... guess i'll just have to reread the more inscrutable tales until some new ones come along.

Zen Chocolate
i stumbled onto your stories, and really took away some food for thought. the stories are very rich, like something chocolate. i think that i will only read a few, then come back some other time when i have finished digesting them! (wow!, a lot of food analogies. sorry about that!)

A Little Help for My Friends
Not only do the stories help me to relax in the morning, when I'm getting ready for work, but they give me something to think about during the day. I am very thankful for these stories and want to extend my thanks to you for making them available. Lately, while me and my friends are sitting in a restaurant, hanging out at my house, or just driving down the road, I have been sharing these stories with them. Each time I have been amazed at their reactions. The discussion which results from the thoughtful interpretations of each story is nothing short of amazing. Thanks again for making these stories available. I commend you on your work.

The Meaning of It All
I'd just like to ask you the main essense of these stories, what are the real insights to these paragraphs. In other words "If these stories were just long winding questions, What would be the answer?"

Crystally Unclear
This site is: "A monument to ambiguity zen stories high".

Zen English
My second hour english class has become a great place to relate Zen Stories. The only problem is I feel like the child who always pointed at the sky when people began talking about Zen; the stories carry much more wisdom than I, the storyteller, do.

A Poem
You perverse puppeteer,
dealer of existentialism to the masses.
I'll have some please.
I'm an addict don't you know.
For the reactions, not the stories,
are the best of the show.

Missed the Point
My friend here and I are arguing. He believes I've missed the point. I believe the point is what I make it. Missing the point is therefore an impossibility.

Being Wise
This is one of the funniest places I have ever been on the Internet. The people's comments are more enlightening than the stories. Many sound like a combination of Jack Handy's Deep Thoughts and Beavis. I had to laugh out loud so many times. This site was a good idea by the way but I guess you realize that by now. Are you a Zen Master or just a wise guy? Thanks for the laughs.


Cliff Hanger
I feel as if I were the old man on the cliff, upon discovering something completely unexpected far below him; I stumbled upon your site purely by chance, and cannot even retrace my steps. Having done so, I feel very rewarded for having used idle time wisely. I have found an unexpected jewel.

The Beholder's Eye
Is there a "true" accepted meaning to these stories, or only want the reader perceives?

Owning Zen
It reminds me when I started school in the first grade. The teacher called me to the front of room to recognize my birthday. She pointed out a music box with a crank. I thought if was for me. She indicate that I was to turn the crank. She was letting me play it, not own it. This memory has lasted longer than I suspect the music box would have. The Internet and the Zen Stories are something like that.

Who me? A Threat?
Based on my responses to the short stories, in your opinion, am I a threat to myself or others? ;~)

Minimalist Meditation
These passages seem to require quite a bit of meditation to comprehend the fullness...or maybe the minimalness...of their meanings.

Who Needs an Explanation?
As a Buddhist, I have some mixed feelings about your "project". My "understanding" of Zen koans (both stories and riddles) are to enable students of Zen to gain insight into the experience of life/living. The "point" of most koans is that of "direct experience," and your request for readers to "explain" their "understanding" of these stories deflects their primary goal (IMHO). Sooo, while walking down a Zen monastary path, a student cannot pass his master and say nothing, nor can he stop and talk with him. What does he do?

Censoring the Negatives
Particularly interesting to me is the varied reactions to the stories. I compliment you on publishing these responses without censoring the negative responses. Often, the responses sounding the most intellectual offer the most negative criticism and the least perception. Zen masters would find that interesting, no doubt.

It's Getting Old
how about some newer material?

I really love the quality of the stories here. And the responses of the people: Christ!! How do you keep from rolling on the floor in laughter at these?!!!

Empty Tracks
I was walking along some railroad tracks some months ago, and I came upon a chid. The child looked at me and asked " is there a train on the tracks?" I looked at him and said "Yes, somewhere"

Zen Therapy
I think what you've done here, perhaps unwittingly, is build a therapeutic site. Even if you don't have time to read and respond to everything, you are still the invisible listener...and because you are invisible, we feel freer to trust you. I have really enjoyed writing my comments, because I feel part of a group, and yet I don't have to worry about the reactions of the group. I don't feel threatened by the thought that somebody might not like what I say.

Better Net
You have made the internet a better place.

What Modern People Know
One can't help but admire the apparent simplicity yet at the same time great depth these thought provoking stories possess. If I had one suggestion it would be that you separate the "People's Reactions to the Story" from the story itself, perhaps by a link so the story remains stark and uncluttered on the page. I myself am drawn to the timelessness of the tales, and prefer not to be "contaminated" with modern interpretation. At the same time, I realize I am viewing these ancient stories through the miracle of the World Wide Web while SLIP-ed into my ISP through a 28.8 modem, so I guess it's pretty hard to fully escape the modern world anyway!

Zen Misery
How about: Now that I'm enlightened, I'm just as miserable as ever.

More Hate for the Comments
I just wanted to write to tell you that I love your pages! However, I HATE HATE HATE the comments after them! They are so distracting! Yes, I know I shouldn't read them but I can't help it - it's like looking at the scene of an accident. The one after the Christian Buddha - "I guess even a Zen master can be illiterate" because he hasn't read the Bible?! Ahhrrgh - do you pick out the most idiotic comments on purpose?

Doctor This!
Why do you tell us that you have a PHD ? You'd better stand in the present. Your PHD is of the past. Isn't it ?

PhD Defense
Somebody commented negatively on the "Ph.D." designation--in my case, I said, "Oh--it's some sort of academic" (You could have been lying about the Ph. D., of course--but would an academic lie?) and I felt comfortable writing you because I am biased in favour of people with formal education. (Even though I have serious reservations about the way it is done--I sort of want to go back to the "wise man under the tree" approach. But can we ever go back? Does anyone ever really seek wisdom for its own sake?)

Still More Complaints about the Reactions
I think it will be better if you just removed those comments made by others. Those comments are simply irritating. Some people ,not understanding the actual message of the story, write nonsense. I know getting irritated is just not good. Even so ,I request you to remove all the comments from the Zen stories.

Right Thinking
I love to read these stories as they make me think, and think, and think. I am sad that I have no understanding of Zen and what it means so I feel that my reactions to these stories are way off the mark, despite the realisation that the essence of what they are saying is very real to me. These stories have sparked in me an interest to learn more about this 'way of thinking', which is forgotton by most of us in our pointless lives. Thank you very much for taking the time to put them in this wonderful WWW.

No Opinion
I read your pages with great interest. I guess I just don't understand the point. The stories, as you present them are just that, just meaningless stories. They are in fact part of a collection of Kong-ans (Korean), Koans (Japanese), Kung-ans (Chinese), with the questions removed. The point of these stories, along with their attached questions is to help the individual who is struggling with the question to eliminate a false understanding of this universe. They are, in fact, designed to teach an individual correct situation, condition and relationship.... all the responses are just peoples opinions, and how can another opinion help us in this world. You must put down your opinion, condition and situation. Only then can you begin to see, touch, taste, smell and feel the truth.... This is the purpose of these "stories" as you call them. So I guess I don't understand your purpose with the web site. Perhaps you could enlighten me?

Missed the Boat
The Zen stories are quite enlightening but the surprisingly large number of people who, by their "reaction", entirely missed the point of many of the stories is rather saddening.

Is this Zen?
Some of the stories certainly did not seem ZEN to me. They seemed contrived to try and look like it. My previous expreience with ZEN stories was different. It usually was a bid on the part of story teller to cut through our process of conceptual and perceptual division of things, built through words and thought (basically cut though duality or Advaita). Some of the stories fell out of this category, also the 'feel' was not ZEN. Could you please explan this?

Me? A Zen Master?
i read your page and found that you might not be a master at all. why read this and then reply, cant read this than you did not fly.

Rocky Road

Possibly my favorite zen quote is from my best friend, who taught me how to rock climb (which he once described as full-body zen chess). He said, "If you find a hold, grab it. If you don't, grab it with both hands!"

For the past 20 years I have been training in various contexts in corporations, institutes, etc. I salute you for your energy in putting a superb (ly generative) collection of Zen stories together. Even more heartfelt thanks for your apparent generosity. I will make these stories available to other consultant and training collegues of mine - who are always on the look out for metaphores in training.

Also, the way you non-judgmentally include everyone's comments is a very good idea.

Those Reactions.... AHA!

I felt rather arrogant reading some of the responses to the story, and then a comment by someone who didn't "get it" crystalized the story for me perfectly, and I understood.

Don't Worry. Be Happy!
I have a friend who is totally preocuppied with finding unconditional happiness. I wonder if this is possible? She seems to be working to hard at it. Do you have any stories relating to unconditional happiness specifically (I know they all relate to happiness in some way)

The Complete Answer

" ...."

Zen Stories to Tell Your Neighbors