For centuries, Zen masters have used stories and koans, or paradoxical riddles, to help students realize their true nature. These stories are often puzzling and may seem nonsensical, but ponder them yourself and you might emerge wiser and more self-aware. Here are seven of our favorite Zen stories.
A fellow went to a Zen master and said, “If I work very hard, how soon can I be enlightened?”
The Zen master looked him up and down and said, “Ten years.”
The fellow said, “No, listen, I mean if I really work at it, how long—”
The Zen master cut him off. “I’m sorry. I misjudged. Twenty years.”
”Wait!” Said the young man, “You don’t understand! I’m—”
“Thirty years,” said the Zen master.