The Timeless Joy of the Small Zen Tale

The Timeless Joy of the Small Zen Tale

By Dan Webster

There is a wonderful tradition in Zen Buddhism of using tales to illustrate Buddhist principles. Sometimes these merely record the history of a particular community and teachers. Other times they employ humor, shock, and the unexplained to jolt the reader out of their usual expectations of religion. In this they are less a didactic teaching tool, and more of an experience that makes the reader aware of their own stupidity and ignorance.

I first read these in Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, a collection of perhaps the best of these stories, when I was still a teenager. One of my favorite of these tales is called ‘The Other Side’

One day a young Buddhist on his journey home came to the banks of a wide river. Staring hopelessly at the great obstacle in front of him, he pondered for hours on just how to cross such a wide barrier. Just as he was about to give up his pursuit to continue his journey he saw a great teacher on the other side of the river. The young Buddhist yells over to the teacher, “Oh wise one, can you tell me how to get to the other side of this river”?

The teacher ponders for a moment looks up and down the river and yells back, “My son, you are on the other side”.

Links to other favorite Zen tales below

It Will Pass

Not Far From Buddhahood


The Stingy Artist

Not Dead Yet

A Letter to a Dying Man


Time To Die

Working Very Hard

You can get the classic Zen Flesh, Zen Bones book at Amazon here. If you have a personal favorite, please retell it to us in the comments.

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