Not all koans walk the straight path. Some travel on the crooked.
1. The Zen Master and the American Philosopher
A wise Zen Master had agreed to meet with a philosopher from America. The philosopher was a very famous man and everyone agreed that this would be a momentous occasion - the meeting of Western and Eastern philosophy!
With open arms, the Zen Master welcomed the philosopher into his house. As was the custom, he set out tea cups for both his guest and himself.
"Zen Master," said the philosopher, "I have traveled thousands of miles to learn from you the essential nature of Zen. Unfortunately, I also have a guest lecture at the local university in one hour, so could you please explain Zen in as few of words as possible?"
With great and deliberate care, the Zen Master picked up the tea kettle and started to pour into the philosopher's tea cup.
Slowly, the tea cup started to fill and then it started to overflow. Everywhere it went: on the table, on the carpet, on the Zen Master, on the American philosopher, and even on the draperies.
The philosopher watched and waited until the Zen Master's kettle was empty.
"You know," the philosopher mused, "a simple 'No' would have sufficed."
"Yes," said the Zen Master, "but then I couldn't have had one of my pupils clean up this mess."
And with that, the Zen Master clapped his hands and a pupil of his came in and started to clean up the room.
And the philosopher was enlightened. And they both were enlightened.
2. Chuang-tzu and the Fishes
One day Chuang-tzu and a friend were walking along a riverbank. "How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!" Chuang-tzu exclaimed.
"You are not a fish," his friend said. "How do you know whether or not the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
"You are not me," Chuang-tzu said. "How do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
"You are not me," his friend said. "How do you know that I do not know that you do not know whether or not the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
"You are not me," Chuang-tzu said. "How do you know that I do not know that you do not know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
The bodies of Chuan-tzu and his friend were discovered many years later. At that time it was discovered that the fishes were not enjoying themselves as they were all struggling with a multiple large debts owed to a loan shark.
3. Tsao-Lo and the Student
One day Tsao-Lo, a Zen Master, was approached by a studant.
"Master," says the Student, "what is the difference between a serious riddle designed to stop normal cognitive processes so that a deeper understanding can be achieved through a forced re-assessment of the world and complete nonsense?"
Tsao-Lo considered it and then held up one finger.
4. The Master and the War Refugee
A war refugee sought the Master. He said, "You are wise and serene. Teach me to escape the horrors of this world." And the Master blinded him with fire-irons.
The war refugee was later able to sue the Master for $1.3 million dollars. He lived his life in luxury.
5. The Student and His Chores
One day, a student sought out a great Zen Master, Master Cho.
The student traveled a great distance, over mountains and rivers, and when he reached the house of Master Cho he threw himself down on his knees before him.
"Oh great Master Cho, please teach me all that you know and I will be your servant."
And the master agreed.
On the first day, the student carried heavy bags of rice from the Master's storehouse to his kitchen.
On the second day, the student cut down many trees to keep the Master's fires burning brightly.
On the third day, he cleaned out the Master's stable and cleaned every horse.
On the fourth day, he began to grow tired and as he was carrying two kettles of water, he fell down, crying out in pain. Seeing this, Master Cho rushed over with a long piece of river reed and began to beat him.
"But, Master!" yelled the Student, "what does this have to do with Zen?!"
"Oh," said Master Cho, "you're looking for Zen Master Cho! He lives down the road."
And the student was enlightened.
6. Numerous Zen Students
How many Zen Students does it take to screw in a light bulb?
One. And then he will be enlightened.
7. Zen is in Everything
"Okay, are you ready to do this thing?"
"Oh yeah, I'm ready."
"Good, did you remember to bring the wrench?"
"Um, let me check."
"Come on, we don't have all night."
"Yeah, I have it. It's right here."
"Okay, good. I'll break the window, you run in and hit him over the head, and then we'll drag the statue out, got it?"
"Yeah. But I have just one question."
"What is it?"
"What's the banana for?"
Zen is in Everything.
8. Kou-Le and the Night of 40 years
A student came to the Zen Master Kou-Le searching for enlightenment.
"Kou-Le," the student inquiries, "will you please tech me the Zen nature?"
Kou-Le just sat silently, not moving even an inch.
"There's no need for silence," the student allowed.
9. True Enlightenment
The reader came to the writer and asked, "Can you tell me what is True Enlightenment?"
And the writer answered, "Is the King of France bald?"
Give it a try! I'm sure you'll like it.