Zen has a rich tradition of storytelling. Actually, just about the entire human race has a rich history of storytelling. Why do we like stories so much? Because we can identify with them. Stories, whether real or not, pull and tug at our emotions. We connect personally with stories.
Whereas someone can tell us that it’s important for us to appreciate and care for our parents, another person can tell us a story about the life of a daughter and her mother, and about how neither could ever see eye-to-eye all the way up until the day that the mother passed away.
Even if you aren’t a daughter, but a son, or if it was your father whom you had that type of relationship with, or even if you just feel like you don’t appreciate your mother or father (or both) enough, regardless, a story like that can touch you in a way that someone simply telling you, “hey, it’s important that you appreciate your parents”, could never do.
We need to experience something directly in order to really learn what it’s about. This is wisdom, as opposed to knowledge much like you’d acquire in a class at school, a parrot-like type of learning that serves as a nice basis for establishing the necessary foundation for certain larger tasks, but which can serve little real use elsewhere particularly in advancing your well-being.
I love Zen stories. Not just because I find them fun, because I do (most Zen Buddhist short stories require some level of meditative contemplation to figure out), I love them because their purpose is to teach a lesson. Also, Zen short stories go beyond just Zen. They’re really just stories about life. So keep in mind I only say Zen stories because they originated from the Zen Buddhist tradition. They speak of truths which everyone can learn from, though (as does all of Zen).
The lesson can be anything- any undeniable life truth which can be discovered through a life devoted to looking within yourself. This is the life of any Buddhist, many non-Buddhists, and should be the life of anyone who cares to find the path to true peace and happiness.
These stories only seek to point the way. Don’t take any of them for the truth without investigating them for yourself. The point isn’t to believe blindly, it’s to develop confidence in your life and in the way. By the way, I mean the way to live our best life and ultimately find peace within ourselves and with others. Here’s some of my favorite Zen stories:
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6 Awesome Zen Stories That Will Teach You Important Life Lessons
1. Everything changes
Suzuki Roshi, I’ve been listening to your lectures for years,” a student said during the question and answer time following a lecture, “but I just don’t understand. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”
Everyone laughed. Suzuki laughed.
“Everything changes,” he said. Then he asked for another question.
Explanation: One of the foremost teachings in Buddhism is that everything in life is impermanent. Suzuki Roshi (Shunryu Suzuki of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind) is referring to this impermanence by saying “everything changes”. This is a very deep teaching, but I’ll attempt to sum it up in a way that can be understood and immediately helpful in a few words.