A Collection of Wisdom
Zen Buddhism


Koans: dialogues, riddles, stories, or sayings that can be used to make a person think spontaneously, to think outside the box, and trigger enlightenment

(Note: The term koan can also be used to describe most Zen-related writings, sayings, proverbs, quotes, etc.)

Everything Is

Banzan overheard a conversation between a customer and a butcher.

Customer: “Give me the best piece of meat you have.”

Butcher: “Everything in my shop is the best. You cannot find any piece of meat that is not the best.”

Upon hearing this, Banzan was enlightened.

They Were Like

Disciple: “What did ancient masters attain when they entered the ultimate level?”

Master: “They were like crooks stealthily moving into a vacant home.”

Perfect Understanding

Disciple: “Tell me about a person who has a perfect understanding of things?”

Master: “It is a great practice.”

Disciple: “It is unclear to me—do you practice?”

Master: “I wear clothes and I eat food.”

Disciple: “Those are standard behaviors. It is still unclear to me—do you practice?”

Master: “Tell me this—what do I do everyday?”

Can I Do It?

Disciple: “I plan to carve a stone into a Buddha. Can I do it?”

Master: “Yes, you can do it.”

Disciple: “Can I not do it?”

Master: “No, you cannot do it.”

A Million Objects

Disciple: “If a million objects come to you, what do you do?”

Master: “A green object is not yellow. A long object is not short. Each object conducts its own fate. Why should I interfere with them?”

The One Man Dialogue

Ruiyan is talking to himself.

Ruyain: “Master… Yes, sir… Be alert… Yes, sir… And also, do not be deceived by other people… Yes, sir; yes, sir.”


Disciple: “What is the clear path?”

Master: “Awakening your mind, and seeing your nature.”

The Jewel

Disciple: “Does the bright jewel in my hand posses any illumination?”

Master: “Yes—but what are you calling a jewel?”


Disciple: “How about if I aim to be Buddha?”

Master: “What an immense waste of energy!”

Disciple: “How about if I am not wasting my energy?”

Master: “In that case, you are Buddha!”

What is the Buddha?

Dabai: “What is the Buddha?”

Baso: “The very mind is the Buddha.”

What is the Buddha? II

Monk: “What is the Buddha?”

Baso: “Not the mind, not the Buddha”

What is the Buddha? III

Disciple: “What is the Buddha?”

Tozan: “Three pounds of flax!”

Who is Buddha?

Disciple: “Who is Buddha?”

Master: “Who is asking?”

Mind / Knowledge

Nansen: “Mind is not the Buddha; knowledge is not the Way.”


Monk: “Is there a truth unspoken to people?”

Nansen: “Yes.”

Monk: “What is the truth unspoken to people.”

Nansen: “Not the mind, not the Buddha, not a thing.”

Nansen’s Farming Tool

Nansen was working on the mountain, and a monk walked up to him

Monk: “What way leads to Nansen?”

Nansen: (Raising up his farming tool) “I bought this farming tool for 25 cents.”

Monk: “I’m not asking about the farming tool you bought for 25 cents. What way leads to Nansen?”

Nansen: “It feels good when I use it.”

What is the Way?

Joshu: “What is the Way?”

Nansen: “Ordinary [or everyday] mind is the Way.”

Joshu: “How do I try to get it?

Nansen: “The more you pursue it, the more you will be separated from it.”

Joshu: “Well, if I don’t pursue it, then how can I know it?”

Nansen: “The Way is not about knowing, nor is it about not-knowing. Knowing is an illusion, and not-knowing is disorientation. The Way is vast, free, and boundless like outer space—so where is there room in that for good and bad, or right and wrong?”

Upon hearing this, Joshu was enlightened.

Tell Me a Summary of Buddhism

A young disciple felt that he had realized much of Zen, and he left his master’s monastery to travel all over China. Many years later, he returned to the monastery to visit his old master.

Master: “Tell me the summary of Buddhism.”

Disciple: “If a cloud does not float over the mountain, the moonlight will go through the waves of the lake.”

Master (angrily): “After all these years, you still have such an idea of Zen!”

The Disciple was very upset to hear this from his Master. After a few minutes had passed, he inquired to the Master.

Disciple: “Please tell me the summary of Buddhism.”

Master: “If a cloud does not float over the mountain, the moonlight will go through the waves of the lake.”

Before the Master completed his statement, the Disciple was enlightened.

What is the Meaning of Buddhism?

Disciple: “What is the meaning of Buddhism?”

Master: “Wait until no one is around, and I will tell you.”

The Next Day

Disciple: “OK. No one is around now. Please tell me.”

The Master took the disciple to a bamboo orchard, and did not say anything. Some time passed and the disciple did not appear to understand, so the Master spoke.

Master: “Here is a tall bamboo; there is a short one.”

Who Constricts You?

Master: “Who constricts you?”

Disciple: “No one.”

Master: “Then why seek liberation?”

Inside Outside

Disciple: “What is your practice?”

Master: “Have nothing inside, search for nothing outside.”

Leaving Home

Disciple: “What is leaving home?”

Master: “Not yearning for approval, not searching for impurities.”

Leaving Home II

Disciple: “It is still unclear to me—what is it when someone asserts to leave home and search for paramount wisdom?”

Master: “When you have not left home yet, wisdom uses you. After leaving home, you can use wisdom.”

Other Than Words

Disciple: “Other than words, please say something.”

Master: (coughs)

What is Your Way?

Disciple: “What is your Way?”

Master: “What is right now?”