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10 Zen Stories That Will Expand Your Consciousness

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For centuries, Zen masters have used Zen stories, tales, koans, and paradoxical riddles, to help students understand Zen principles, expand their consciousness, and become more mindful and self-aware.

Zen stories provide enlightening perspectives on a variety of topics and help you to find your own ways on how to deal with the problems of daily living, how to handle this or that situation, and how to create balance in your everyday life.

The powerful thing about Zen stories is that they don’t give you straight instructions or clear answers to your questions. Instead, zen stories expand your consciousness in a way that you become capable of finding the answers yourself or rather, how zen Buddhists say: “In Zen, we don’t find the answers. We lose the questions”.

In this article, we have collected 10 powerful zen stories that will help you to lose your questions by expanding your consciousness.

10 Zen Stories

#1 The Move

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Two men visit a Zen master.

The first man says: “I’m thinking of moving to this town. What’s it like?”

The Zen master asks: “What was your old town like?”

The first man responds: “It was dreadful. Everyone was hateful. I hated it.”

The Zen master says: “This town is very much the same. I don’t think you should move here.”

The first man leaves and the second man comes in.

The second man says: “I’m thinking of moving to this town. What’s it like?”

The Zen master asks: “What was your old town like?”

The second man responds: “It was wonderful. Everyone was friendly and I was happy. Just interested in a change now.”

The Zen master says: “This town is very much the same. I think you will like it here.”

#2 A Cup Of Tea

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A learned man once went to visit a Zen teacher to inquire about Zen. As the Zen teacher talked, the learned man frequently interrupted to express his own opinion about this or that. Finally, the Zen teacher stopped talking and began to serve tea to the learned man. He poured the cup full, then kept pouring until the cup overflowed.

“Stop,” said the learned man. “The cup is full, no more can be poured in.”

“Like this cup, you are full of your own opinions,” replied the Zen teacher. “If you do not first empty your cup, how can you taste my cup of tea?

#3 The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

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Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. “You may have come a long way to visit me,” he told the prowler, “and you should not return emptyhanded. Please take my clothes as a gift.”

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. “Poor fellow, ” he mused, “I wish I could give him this beautiful moon.”

#4 The Girl At The River

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A senior monk and a junior monk were traveling together. At one point, they came to a river with a strong current. As the monks were preparing to cross the river, they saw a very young and beautiful woman also attempting to cross. The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side.

The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman. Then, without a word, the older monk picked up the woman, carried her across the river, placed her gently on the other side, and carried on his journey.

The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them.

Two more hours passed, then three. Finally, the younger monk could not contain himself any longer and blurted out: “As monks, we are not permitted a woman, how could you then carry that woman on your shoulders?”

The older monk looked at him and replied: “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”

#5 A Useless Life

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A farmer got so old that he couldn’t work the fields anymore. So he would spend the day just sitting on the porch. His son, still working the farm, would look up from time to time and see his father sitting there.

“He’s of no use anymore,” the son thought to himself, “he doesn’t do anything!” One day the son got so frustrated by this, that he built a wood coffin, dragged it over to the porch, and told his father to get in.

Without saying anything, the father climbed inside. After closing the lid, the son dragged the coffin to the edge of the farm where there was a high cliff.

As he approached the drop, he heard a light tapping on the lid from inside the coffin. He opened it up. Still lying there peacefully, the father looked up at his son and said “I know you are going to throw me over the cliff, but before you do, may I suggest something?”

“What is it?” replied the son.

“Throw me over the cliff, if you like,” said the father, “but save this good wood coffin. Your children might need to use it.”

#6 Working Very Hard

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A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it.”

The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.”

Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice every day, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”

The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”

#7 It Will Pass

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A student went to his meditation teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel so distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s just horrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said matter-of-factly.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive! It’s just wonderful!

“It will pass,” the teacher replied matter-of-factly.

#8 The Man Who Said Yes

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A man went to a Buddhist monastery for a silent retreat. After he finished, he felt better, calmer, stronger, but something was missing. The teacher said he could talk to one of the monks before he left.

The man thought for a while, then asked: “How do you find peace?”

The monk said: “I say yes. To everything that happens, I say yes.”

When the man returned home, he was enlightened.

Most of our pain, most of our suffering comes from resistance to what is. Life is. And when we resist what life is, we suffer. When you can say yes to life, surrender to life, and say: “Okay, what should I be now?” That’s where power comes from.

#9 The Crystal Cup

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A Zen master was given a beautifully crafted crystal cup. It was a gift from a former student.

He was very grateful. Every day, he enjoyed drinking out of his glass. He would show it to visitors and tell them about the kindness of his student.

But every morning, he held the cup in his hand for a few seconds and reminded himself: “This glass is already broken.”

One day, a clumsy visitor toppled the glass on its shelf. The cup fell down. When it hit the floor, it was smashed into thousands of pieces.

The other visitors gasped in shock, but the Zen master remained calm. Looking at the mess in front of his feet, he said: “Ah. Yes. Let’s begin.”

He picked up a broom and started sweeping.

Half of the happiness is made of being okay with what you don’t get and the other half is being okay with losing what you have.

#10 Wash Your Bowl

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A monk told Joshu: “I have just entered the monastery. Please teach me.”

Joshu asked: “Have you eaten your rice porridge?”

The monk replied: “I have eaten.”

Joshu said: “Then you had better wash your bowl.”

At that moment the monk was enlightened.

Don’t get your head caught up in all this thinking about the meaning of life. Instead, just do. Just wash your bowl. And in the washing, you will find all you need.


Inspiration

8 Documentaries About Spiritual Teachers Every Seeker Should See

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Having embarked on the path of spirituality, most of us have lots of questions. We search for answers in books, video lectures, seminars, pilgrimages, etc. One way or another, most of us seek to find a spiritual teacher who can help us understand the incomprehensible labyrinths of the spiritual path and give answers to the most difficult questions. The meaning of life, the struggle with temptations, finding happiness, ending suffering, methods, and ways of self-improvement – these and many other vital questions we ask spiritual teachers.

But who are they – spiritual teachers? What was their spiritual path? How did they get the wisdom to guide thousands of people? This is what we are going to talk about in this article, or rather, give you the opportunity to find it out yourself. In this article, we want to share with you the list of 8 thought-provoking documentaries about spiritual teachers that you should definitely see.

8 Documentaries About Spiritual Teachers

#1 Awake: The Life of Yogananda, 2014

An unconventional biography about the Indian mystic Yogananda who brought yoga and meditation to the West in the 1920s. This documentary was filmed over three years with the participation of 30 countries around the world. It examines the world of yoga, modern and ancient, East and West, and explores why millions today have turned their attention inward, bucking the temptations of the material world in pursuit of self-realization.

#2 Amongst White Clouds, 2007

American director Edward A. Burger takes us on his unforgettable journey into the hidden lives of China’s forgotten Buddhist hermit tradition. Amongst White Clouds is a look at the lives of zealot students, gaunt ascetics and wise masters living in isolated hermitages dotting the peaks and valleys of China’s Zhongnan Mountain range.” With both humor and compassion, these inspiring and warm-hearted characters challenge us to join them in an exploration of our own suffering and enlightenment in this modern world.

#3 10 Questions for the Dalai Lama, 2006

Filmmaker Rick Ray meets with Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama at his monastery in Dharamsala, India The filmmaker asks him ten questions during the course of the interview which is inter-cut with a biography of Tenzin Gyatso, a history of modern Tibet and a chronicle of Ray’s journey securing the interview.

Ray asks a range of questions, touching on philosophical, social and political issues.

Some of the questions asked:

  • “Why do the poor seem happier than the rich?”
  • “How can one reconcile an attitude of non-violence when faced with a direct threat to one’s safety and security?”
  • “Should countries be dedicated to preserving their traditions or embrace modern culture?”
  • “Will there be another Dalai Lama?”

The questions are not numbered in the film and Ray admits to asking more than ten questions during the interview.

#4 Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It, 2017

Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, gave the youth what the society could never give. He taught them to seek peace inside and to live without cruelty.

This documentary shows how wonderful it is when you have a great mission and purpose in life. And when there is a goal to change the world for the better, then the right people will always find you.

If you remember history, there were many other peaceful revolutionaries. If we talk about religion, Jesus was one of them too. So this movie is about history, about inspiration, about the power of the human spirit, about the purity of the heart, but NOT about religion.

#5 Wild Wild Country, TV series

This is a Netflix documentary series about the controversial Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho), his one-time personal assistant Ma Anand Sheela, and their community of followers in the Rajneeshpuram community located in Wasco County, Oregon.

When a controversial guru builds a utopian city in the Oregon desert, it causes a massive conflict with local ranchers. This docu-series chronicles the conflict, which leads to the first bioterror attack in the United States and a massive case of illegal wiretapping. It is a pivotal but largely forgotten, time in American cultural history that tested the country’s tolerance for the separation of church and state.

#6 The Buddha, 2010

This documentary tells the story of the Buddha’s life, a journey especially relevant to our own bewildering times of violent change and spiritual confusion. It features the work of some of the world’s greatest artists and sculptors, who across two millennia, have depicted the Buddha’s life in art rich in beauty and complexity. Hear insights into the ancient narrative by contemporary Buddhists, including Pulitzer Prize-winning poet W.S. Merwin and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Join the conversation and learn more about meditation, the history of Buddhism, and how to incorporate the Buddha’s teachings on compassion and mindfulness into daily life.

#7 Ram Dass, Going Home, 2017

Ram Dass is one of the most important cultural figures from the 1960s and 70s. The author of “Be Here Now”, beloved spiritual teacher, and outspoken advocate for death-and-dying awareness, Ram Dass is now himself approaching the end of life.

Since suffering a life-changing stroke twenty years ago, he has been living at his home on Maui and deepening his spiritual practice – which is centered on love and his idea of merging with his surroundings and all living things.

From his home on Maui, pioneering researcher, author and spiritual teacher Ram Dass reflects on love, life and death as his own days draw to a close. 

#8 Walk With Me, 2017

“Walk With Me” is a meditative film about a community of Zen Buddhist monks and nuns who have dedicated their lives to mastering the art of mindfulness with their world-famous teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Cooling to the mind and soothing to the spirit, this documentary offers a tiny oasis of relief to anyone overheated by current events. When you feel like freaking out, the movie’s commitment to slowing down and drawing inward doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

The Bottom Line

Spiritual Teachers belong to different faiths and traditions, but they all have one thing in common – the desire to help people.

Guru is an ocean of knowledge. And in this ocean, one disciple chooses stones and the other pearls, and this choice depends on the disciple. Therefore, listening to the advice of a spiritual teacher, always remember that the final choice is always yours. We ourselves determine which knowledge resonates with us and which does not. That is why we and only we are responsible for our personal spiritual development.


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