Castles in the Sand

Some children were playing beside a river. They made castles of sand, and each child defended his castle and said, ‘This one is mine.’ They kept their castles separate and would not allow any mistakes about which was whose. When the castles were all finished, one child kicked over someone else’s castle and completely destroyed it.

The owner of the castle flew into a rage, pulled the other child’s hair, struck him with his fist and bawled out, ‘He has spoiled my castle! Come along all of you and help me punish him as he deserves.’ The others all came to his help. They beat the child … Then they went on playing in their sand castles, each saying, ‘This is mine; no one else may have it. Keep away! Don’t touch my castle!’

But evening came, it was getting dark and they all thought they ought to be going home. No one now cared what became of his castle. One child stamped on his, another pushed his over with both hands. Then they turned away and went back, each to his home.

~ From “Yogacara Bhumi Sutra 4”, quoted from World Scripture. Taken from “Thus Have I Heard”, edited by Minh Thanh and P.D. Leigh.

Eight Earthly Winds

There was a well-known scholar who practiced Buddhism and befriended a chan master. Thinking that he had made great stride in his cultivation, he wrote a poem and asked his attendant to deliver it to the master who lived across the river. The master opened the letter and read the short poem aloud:

“Unmoved by the eight worldly winds, [1]
Serenely I sit on the purplish gold terrace.”

A smile broke up on the lips of the master. Picking up an ink brush, he scribbled the word “fart” across the letter and asked that it be delivered back to the scholar.
The scholar was upset and went across the river right away to reprimand the master for being rude. The master laughed as he said, “You said you are no longer moved by the eight worldly winds and yet with just one ‘fart’, you ran across the river like a rat!”

[1] Eight worldly winds/concerns: Gain and loss, honor and disgrace, praise and blame, happiness and pain.

Kisa Gotami

Kisa Gotami was the wife of a wealthy man of Savatthi. She had only one child. When her son was old enough to start running about, he caught a disease and died. Kisa Gotami was greatly saddened. Unable to accept that her son was dead and could not be brought back to life again, she took him in her arms and went about asking for medicine to cure him. Everyone she encountered thought that she had lost her mind. Finally, an old man told her that if there was anyone who could help her, it would be the Buddha.

In her distress, Kisa Gotami brought the body of her son to the Buddha and asked him for a medicine that would bring back his life. The Buddha answered: “I shall cure him if you can bring me some white mustard seeds from a house where no one has died”. Carrying her dead son, she went from door to door, asking at each house. At each house the reply was always that someone had died there.

At last the truth struck her, “No house is free from death”. She laid the body of her child in the wood and returned to the Buddha, who comforted her and preached to her the truth. She was awakened and entered the first stage of Arhatship. Eventually, she became an Arhat.

A Chan Master’s Tear

One day, Ch’an Master K’ung-yeh was travelling on the road and met some bandits who wanted to rob him.

Tears fell from the Master’s eyes.

The bandits started laughing and exclaimed, “What a coward!”

Master K’ung-yeh then said, “Don’t think that I’m crying because I’m afraid of you. I am not even afraid of birth and death. I feel sorry for you young people. You are strong and healthy, yet instead of doing things that are beneficial for others, you hurt people by robbing them. Of course, what you are doing is not acceptable and cannot be tolerated by society. What is worse is that you will all go to hell and suffer great pain. I am so worried about you that I cannot restrain myself and am shedding tears for you”

The bandits were moved and decided to give up their evil ways.

Why Did Bodhidharma Bring When He Came From the West?

There was a monk who asked his master, “What did Bodhidharma bring when he came from the West?”

The master replied, “He didn’t bring anything.”

The monk insisted, “Didn’t Bodhidharma bring Buddhadharma, the teaching of Buddha, from the West?”

The master replied, “No, not really. Buddhadharma has always been in China.”

The monk was puzzled, “Well, that’s strange then. If Buddhadharma was already here, why did Bodhidharma bother coming to China?”

The master replied, “Because Buddhadharma was already here, it is for that reason that Bodhidharma had to leave India and come here.”

Easier Known Than Done

One day, the famous poet Bai Ju-Yi (Po Chu-I) asked Master Niao-Wo, “What is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching?”

Master Niao-Wo said, “Refrain from all unwholesome deeds and perform all wholesome deeds.”

Bai chuckled, “Ha! Even a child knows that.”

The master replied, “A child may know it, but not even a one-hundred-year-old can do it.”

The Story of Upali

On one occasion Upali the millionaire, a follower of Nigantha Nataputta, approached the Buddha and was so pleased with the Buddha’s exposition of the Dhamma that he instantly expressed his desire to become a follower of the Buddha. But the Buddha advised him, saying–“Of a verity, O householder, make a thorough investigation. It is well for a distinguished man like you to make a thorough investigation.”

Upali, who was overwhelmed with joy at this unexpected utterance of the Buddha. said: “Lord, if I had become a follower of another teacher, his followers would have taken me round the streets in procession proclaiming that such and such a millionaire had renounced his former religion and had embraced theirs. But, Lord, you advise me to investigate further. The more pleased am I with this salutary advise of yours.” And he appreciatively repeated–for the second time, “I seek refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha.”

Though Upali became a Buddhist by conviction, the Buddha, quite in keeping with his boundless compassion and perfect tolerance, advised him to support his former religious teacher in accordance with his practice.

~ Told by Ven. Narada in “The Buddha and His teachings”


A monk once asked: “Is Prajna great?”

The Master answered: “Yes, it is.”

The monk asked: “How great?”

The Master answered: “Boundless.”

The monk asked: “Is Prajna small?”

The Master answered: “Yes, it is.”

The monk asked: “How small?”

The Master answered: “So small you can’t see it.”

The monk asked: “Then where is it?”

The Master answered: “Where is it not?”

~ From “Entering the Tao of Sudden Enlightenment” by Ch’an Master Ta-Chu Hui-Hai

Man Wounded by an Arrow

“Parable of the arrow smeared thickly with poison:

It is as if a man had been wounded by an arrow thickly smeared with poison, and his friends and kinsmen were to get a surgeon to heal him, and he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know by what man I was wounded, whether he is of the warrior caste, or a brahmin, or of the agricultural, or the lowest caste. Or if he were to say, I will not have this arrow pulled out until I know of what name of family the man is — or whether he is tall, or short or of middle height… Before knowing all this, the man would die.

Similarly, it is not on the view that the world is eternal, that it is finite, that body and soul are distinct, or that the Buddha exists after death that a religious life depends. Whether these views or their opposite are held, there is still rebirth, there is old age, there is death, and grief, lamentation, suffering, sorrow, and despair…
I have not spoken to these views because they do not conduce to an absence of passion, to tranquility, and Nirvana. And what have I explained? Suffering have I explained, the cause of suffering, the destruction of suffering, and the path that leads to the destruction of suffering have I explained. For this is useful.”

~ From “The Seeker’s Glossary of Buddhism”. Edited by Minh Thanh and P.D. Leigh

The Useless Eyebrows

Once, a person’s eyes, nose, and mouth had a meeting. First the eyes said, “We, the eyes, are of utmost importance to the body. Everything must be seen by us to know whether it is beautiful or not, big or small, tall or short. Without eyes, walking around will be very difficult. So we, the eyes, are very important. But we have been improperly placed under the eyebrows, which are of no use. It is just not fair!”

Next, the nose said, “I, the nose, am the most important. Only I can distinguish a good smell from a foul odor. The act of breathing is also dependent on me. If I do not let the breath pass through, everybody will die. So I am the most important. As important as I am, I have been unfairly placed beneath the useless eyebrows. I am most unhappy.”

Then the mouth said, “I am the most important part of the human body. I can speak; if not for me, there would not be any communication among people. I take in the food; if not for me, everybody would die of hunger. Such an important part as myself has been placed in the lowest part of the face. The useless eyebrows, however, have been put on the highest part of the face. This I cannot accept!”

After the others had spoken, the eyebrows spoke slowly, “Please do not fight anymore. We, the eyebrows, are surely the most useless things; we admit defeat. We are willing to be placed below you.”

Having said this, the eyebrows settled down below the eyes. Unfortunately, the person no longer looked like a human being. Next, they eyebrows settled down below the nose. It was still horrible; it still did not look like a human being. Then the eyebrows settled down below the mouth. This looked even more ghastly! The eyes, nose, and mouth huddled to discuss the situation again. They concluded that it was best if the eyebrows returned to their original place on the face; it was the most appropriate spot for them.

When the eyebrows returned to their original spot, the appearance was once again that of a human being. Thus, we can see that what appears to be the most useless thing can be indeed the most useful.

~ Told by Ven. Master Hsing-Yun

There Are Bandits Ahead

One day father and son were walking on a road. The father exclaimed nervously, “Oh, the worse is about to happen — there are bandits ahead.” Nervous that his son was about to be harmed by the bandits, he tried to remove his son’s golden earring.

But to no avail. The bandits approached even closer. The father panicked and decided to chop off his son’s head. The father then sigh in relief. Soon the bandits left and the father tried desperately to reattach his son’s head…

~ From “The Sutra of the Hundred Parables”

The Way

A person asking Ch’an Master Wei K’uan, “Where is the Way?”

“Right before your eyes.”

“Why do I not see it?”

“You do not see it because you have [the notion of] a self.”

“Because I have [the notion of] a self, I do not see it. Has the Master seen it?”

“[The notion of] ‘you,’ in addition to [the notion of] a self, further keeps you from seeing.”

“If there is neither [the notion of] ‘you’ nor [the notion of] a self, can it be seen?”

“If there is neither ‘you’ nor ‘a self,’ then who wants to see it?”

You Are Also Correct!

Two monks who came out of a lecture by their master went on a hot debate regarding what they heard during the lecture. Each of them insited that his understanding was the correct one. To settle the dispute, they went to see the master for a judgement.

After hearing the argument put forth by the first monk, the master said, “You are correct!” The monk was overjoy. Casting a winner’s glance at his friend, he left the room.

The second monk was upset and started to pour out what he thought to the master. After he finished, the master looked at him and said, “You are correct, too.” Hearing this, the second monk brightened up and went away.

A third monk who was also in the room was greatly puzzled by what he saw. He said to the master, “I am confused, master! Their positions regarding the issue are completely opposite. They can’t be both right! How could you say that they are both correct?”

The master smiled as he looked into the eyes of this third monk, “You are also correct!”

Carrying and Leaving

Once upon a time, there were two monks who went on a pilgrimage across the country together. One day, they came to a river bank and saw a beautiful girl who was unable to cross the river.

Seeing her difficulty, the elder monk volunteered to carry her across the river on his back while the younger one looked on in consternation.

When the sun went down, the monks came upon a dilapidated shack and decided to stay there for the night. The elder monk quickly fell asleep while the younger one twisted around, unable to calm his mind. Finally, he woke up the elder monk and reprimanded him for what happened during the day, “As monks, we are supposed to keep away from women. I am really ashamed and troubled by what you did today!”

The elder monk looked at his friend and a smile broke up on his face, “Oh, so that has been bothering you! Brother, I have left the girl behind by the river bank, why are you still carrying her around?”