The power of Zen stories

There is a tradition in Zen Buddhism of recording short tales that are able to teach us about the world and make us question our preconceived notions in just a few words. Below are two such stories, one traditional and one contemporary, that might just give you a fresh perspective.

The Tiger and the Strawberry #1

‘While out walking one day, a man came across a tiger. He fled from the snarling creature, until he came to a cliff. With the tiger behind him, the only way to survive was to descend. He grabbed hold of a vine nearby, and began to climb down. However, half way down, the vine ended, and below he saw only jagged rocks. There was no way out.

Two mice, one white and one black, came out of the cliff and began nibbling at the vine. The doomed man noticed a strawberry near him. With one hand, he reached out, plucked it, and ate it―and how sweet it tasted!’

This is a traditional Zen story, told by the Buddha. It can be a frightening account, if you focus on the tiger and on the jagged rocks, or it can be sweet if you focus on the strawberry. In a similar way, we can do in our lives.

Here, the tiger represents our birth, the jagged rocks – our eventual demise. The vine is life, and the mice are day and night, gnawing away at it, bit by bit.

If the climber focuses on his mortality – he will spend those moments in panic and despair. However, by tasting the fruit, he gets to enjoy what is left to him. This is a classic ‘smell the roses along the way’ story. Wherever we are in life, whatever age or health, we can still choose to enjoy the moments available to us, and make the most of what we have.

The Dreamland Sages #2

‘Every afternoon at the same time, a schoolteacher took a nap while his students worked. Eventually, the students asked why he did it.

“I go to Dreamland to consult the sages,” he replied, and left it at that.

Another day, some of the students fell asleep in the classroom. When the teacher scolded them, in their defense they claimed that they, too, had gone to dreamland to consult the sages.

“And what did the sages say?” He demanded, hoping to trick them.

“We asked them if our teacher went there every afternoon, but they said they’d seen no such person.”

This tale is a more contemporary story, associated with Soyen Shaku, the first Zen Buddhist Master to teach in America at the turn of twentieth century. Though a fun story, this school-based narrative is full of lessons.

From the perspective of the students, we learn not to blindly trust what we’re told, and that sometimes ‘self-investigation’ is the best path. We are taught to question and explore, and that a little wit goes a long way.

From the perspective of the teacher, we learn not to underestimate either children or those of a lower status than ourselves. Just because we have age or education on our side, that does not make us better, or smarter, than those further behind us on the road of life.

Do you have any favourite Zen stories?
Mention your favourites (titles) or leave the link in the comments.

P.S. You know Ray… lazy bastard 😬 he is here, and sometimes he is not 😂.

My 2 trips – to London & Amsterdam (one for 6 pers, another – for 2) are fully planned, booked and paid. Yo! 🕺☕️
I decided to change the date of publishing “Dulcinea and The Death Code”, because my hands are full right now, and I have to feel satisfied with the end-result (book). So, pre-order somewhere in May, publishing – on 3d June (my birthday).

Review “Small Town Kid”, Frank Prem & Libre Paley “In the Calyx” – will be published on Amazon/Goodreads today, but full reviews will be posted on my website during April.

New (updated) plan is here – Click/About Ray page

Thanks to all who messaged me! I love my readers! 💕💕  I’ll do my best to check your latest posts! Hugs ✌️


Next post – Book Review “Small Town Kid”, Frank Prem (memoir book, 1) 

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53 Responses

  1. I must say it is nice to have you back. I missed the memo that said you were going to disappear for a while. Good discussion on Zen.

  2. So the next time have writer’s block I will reach for a strawberry

  3. Joseph Beech says:

    Did you get these stories from Zen flesh Zen bones , one of my favorites is probably a smile in his lifetime

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I’m not sure…it was prepared quite a while ago 😂 but I posted only now. Plus I got help with it 😂😉 but I have to study more zen stories for my writing (“The Pearl” story)…

      • Joseph Beech says:

        Read the Dao de jing , sidartha, and Zen flesh zen bones and it should give you a good foundation for zen 😎👌
        Good Luck with The pearl Story.

      • Victoria Ray NB says:

        Thanks for suggestions, I think I’ll go with it 👍👍

  4. George F. says:

    Thanks for sharing. Enjoy your travels.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Thank you 🙂 I planned at least 2 activities/each day/ & it was tough to choose 😂😂

  5. Hey, Ray, or Queen Victoria. Happy spring travels to you! Here is my favourite zen story as posted on my first blog: https://manjamaksimovic.wordpress.com/2014/04/27/this-is-zen/

  6. masercot says:

    Two monks, one young, one middle-aged, were traveling and came upon a pretty young woman who was stymied by a stream. Without a word, the older monk hoisted the woman onto his back and carried her across. Then, they went on their way.

    The younger monk said nothing, but he was getting angrier and angrier. When he finally did speak it was to admonish the older monk for getting so close to a temptation of the flesh. He mocked the older monk, asking things like, “How did it feel to have her legs around your waist?” After several minutes of this, the older monk turned to the younger and said,

    “I put her down on the other side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”

  7. alexraphael says:

    Wonderful to have you blogging again 🙂

  8. iScriblr says:

    Glad to have you back! Loved your post!👏👏

  9. bogpan says:

    The Moon Cannot Be Stolen
    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 shoud 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.”

  10. Jerry Laiche says:

    So happy you’re back. Great stories! The 2nd one really hit home. I tend to be a bit of a snob sometimes. Got to watch it. Anyway, keep em coming.

  11. InspiresN says:

    I loved both the stories , especially the first one ..so much to learn!

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Yes, zen stories are some way “depository of wisdoms” 🙂 glad u enjoyed it ☀️😀

  12. Eilene Lyon says:

    Thanks for sharing these Zen stories – loved them! Enjoy your travels and good luck with all your many projects.

  13. Loved this…glad to have you back ray!

  14. Kris says:

    Happy sigh. How you make me feel when I read you.

  15. Hyperion says:

    Hi Ray! I thought my knot stories scared you away from the internet and I felt bad about that. But, all of my stories are zen stories and each chapter teaches a lesson about our natural self. Don’t worry, the ropes are a metaphor for how we bind ourselves to our beliefs and daily subterfuge. Don’t read them before bed though because you could have dreams. 🦇. Your zen stories are better anyway. ☺️

  16. Great post Victoria, two provocative stories indeed leading to an eye opener of wisdom – real pearls 🙂

  17. Thank you, Ray, for the Zen stories. And also for the interpretation. I feel inspired and intrigued!

    btw; if you are interested, my second eBook, LETTERS FROM A MADMAN, is free today on any Amazon website! https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07MQQ8RNN

  18. Scarpoe says:

    I forgot to tell you, I’ve been thinking about this post everyday after reading it. It had a good impact that I never saw coming. Thank you for blind siding my ass without cause.

  19. Nickelinho says:

    The tigers and strawberry is my favorite zen story, focus on the now or you will miss out!

  20. Welcome back Ray! Lovely stories.

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