Category Archives: Zen

Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road

Finding a Diamond on a Muddy Road





Zen master Gudo was once the Shogun’s teacher.  Frequently he would be absent from the Capital however, as he undertook to travel alone as a wandering mendicant. 




Once when he was on his way to Edo, the cultural and political center of the Shogunate, he came upon a small village named Takenaka.




 It was evening and the heavy downpours which persisted all day long soaked Gudo to the very marrow.  His wet straw sandals were in tatters.



As he was cold and hungry and exhausted from the long arduous trek, he decided to seek shelter if only for the night. Fortunately he spotted a modest farmhouse near the village and furthermore, noticed four or five pairs of sandals in the window. He at once decided to buy some dry ones and inquire about a night’s lodging.


05-Rainy-night-at-Maekawa---Hasui-Kawase-(1883 – 1957) -800--2

Rainy-night-at-Maekawa—Hasui-Kawase-(1883 – 1957)

The kindly women, seeing his dire straits, gifted him the pair of sandals and graciously invited him into her humble home to share their meager repast and pass the night.  



Gudo thanked her and entered the dwelling. Going straight to the family shrine, he bowed his thanks and recited a sutra. He was then introduced to the women’s mother, and to her children. Observing that the entire family was depressed, Gudo asked what was wrong.

“My husband is not a bad man but he has a vice of gambling and is a drunkard,” the kindly woman after momentary hesitation decided to unburden herself to him. “When he happens to win he drinks and becomes abusive. When he loses he borrows money from others. Sometimes when he becomes thoroughly drunk he does not come home at all. We are all aggrieved but what’s to be done?”

“I will help him,” said Gudo. “Here is some money. Get me a gallon of fine wine and something good to eat. Then you may retire. I will meditate before the shrine.”




When the man of the house returned about midnight, quite drunk, he bellowed: “Hey, wife, I am home. Have you something for me to eat?”




“I have something for you,” said Gudo. “I happened to be caught in the rain and your wife kindly asked me to remain here for the night. In return for the night’s lodging I have bought some wine and fish. There is plenty remaining so you might as well partake.”

The man was delighted. He drank his fill of the wine and ate the food after which feeling lethargic, reclined on the mattress in deep slumber. Gudo forsaking sleep sat in meditation beside him.




In the morning when the husband awoke he had forgotten about the previous night. “Who are you? Where do you come from?” he asked Gudo, who was still meditating.

“I am Gudo of Kyoto and I am going on to Edo,” replied the Zen master.

The man was utterly ashamed. He apologized profusely to the teacher of his Emperor.

Gudo smiled. “Everything in this life is impermanent,” he explained. “Life is very brief. If you keep on gambling and drinking, you will have no time left to accomplish anything else, and you will cause your family to suffer too.”

This simple fact awakened the husband’s good sense.  “You are right,” he declared. “How can I ever repay you for this wonderful teaching? Let me see you off and carry your things a little way.”

“If you wish,” assented Gudo.




The two started out. After they had gone three miles Gudo told him to return. “Just another five miles,” he begged Gudo. They continued on.

“You may return now,” suggested Gudo.

“After another ten miles,” the man replied.

“Return now,” said Gudo, when the ten miles had been passed.




“I am going to follow you all the rest of my life,” declared the man.

Modern Zen teachings in Japan spring from the lineage of a famous master who was the successor of Gudo. His name was Mu-nan, the man who never turned back.







The Tunnel

The Tunnel

(A re-write of Zen Mondo)


Once upon a time in a frontier town the brash young son of a Warrior, named Doku, desiring  to experience more of life after the death of his father, left his rigid and  regulated circumstance and embarked on a long journey towards the Capital.

He was a agile and strong young man and highly skilled in sword fighting.  Halfway to the Capital he came upon a large estate on the periphery of a prosperous town.


The estate holder, Esquire Zaven’s first wife had died suddenly at childbirth leaving behind a squalling son.  The property was enormous with many fields surrounding it that constantly needed tending. The historic mansion perched on a hilltop, supported a large household.  As Zaven was always away on business, he’d been forced to re-marry in haste, acquiring a seemingly competent spouse to run the groundskeepers and the household staff in his absence. Doku, carrying exemplary credentials had no trouble securing the recently vacated position of a head Steward. Unfortunately during the course of his stay there he became enamored of the beautiful young wife of Esquire Zaven.  Doku was a fetching young man with a fine physique that before long caught the eye of the young wife.  


Once when Esquire Zaven was away on business, Doku   chanced a clandestine meeting with the lady in which he professed his deep affections for her. She was an easy conquest and the two became instant lovers.  The Esquire however returned unexpectedly early from his recent trip and so the illicit affair was exposed. Confronting the enraged husband, the culprit Doku slew the outraged Zaven in self-defense.  Faced with this dire circumstance and facing certain death, the two lovers ran away.


Always on the run and with scant options for survival, Doku became a highwayman.  His skill was unmatched and any resistance was swiftly squashed.





The spoils provided the couple with many luxuries. But still, it was never enough for the former wife. Greed dulled the appeal of this once beautiful woman and her demands, by degrees, caused Doku to grow increasingly disgusted with her.  Finally he left her and resumed his journey, but not to the Capital. 


Eventually he settled down to a frugal life in a remote frontier town at the base of a mountain, where he became known as a solitary mendicant. 

As he matured he felt increasing remorse for his past sins. Ghosts regularly haunted his dreams calling for him to atone for his crimes, particularly the felony that had started it all.  Finally, after all this soul searching, Doku’s thoughts centered on the dangerous cliff road over the mountain and the countless souls it had caused death and injury to.




“Yes, I shall do it.” He nodded resolutely. As his atonement for all his past crimes he resolved to cut a tunnel through the mountain.  He knew it would be a most ambitious feat but he desperately needed to accomplish a good turn that may, in part, eradicate some of his sins. 

He set to work the very next day. From then on during the daylight hours Doku worked tirelessly doing any sort of labor, no matter how dangerous or loathsome. At night, after a modest meal and a brief repast, he hefted his pick and packed his shovel then travelled on horseback to the foothills. He spent the first several weeks surveying the region’s topography.  From a hidden cave opening he started digging the tunnel until daylight broke. He made good use of the existing natural caverns, connecting them by digging short tunnels between them. By the time thirty years had gone by, the length of the tunnel reached 2,280 feet. Doku had almost achieved his goal of creating a secure pathway deep under the mountain.  In a two more years he would reach his goal.

Before the work was complete however, the slain Esquire’s son Bron, who had become a skilled swordsman caught up with Doku. Bent on revenge, Bron lay in wait behind a huge boulder on a deserted stretch of path to spring his ambush.  Doku with his experience as a highwayman had naturally sensed the presence of danger and dismounted. Holding the reins, Doku took the rocky path in bold strides that caused Bron to hesitate.

Bron paralleled the path for a time waiting for another opportunity to strike, then, brandishing his sword, jumped in front to block Doku’s way.  Proclaiming his name, he shouted: “I’m here to avenge my father Esquire Zaven Ko, whom you’ve so foully murdered.  Be prepared to die, vermin!”


On the verge of receiving the death blow, Doku maintained his calm composure and stated his protest, “”I will give you my life willingly; only, let me finish this crucial work first. On the day of its completion, I swear I will stand ready to receive my punishment.”

Doku’s courage and earnest demeanor convinced the son to postpone his revenge to a later time. And so Bron temporarily set aside the blistering rage swelling his chest and, night after night, followed Doku to the tunnel and watched him work. In all that time, even with a death sentence hovering over his head Doku’s diligence never once wavered.  He removed the rock with his pick and then constructed post and beam supports from the surrounding trees to buttress the walls of the tunnel. In this way several months passed. Doku, even when sick worked hard at the dig.  

Eventually Bron grew tired of doing nothing but watch Doku. In order to keep fit and to hasten the end result, he simply showed up with a pick. No words were exchanged as he worked alongside Doku on the dig.

After he had helped for more than a year, keeping a close eye on the other even during the day, Bron gradually came to admire Doku’s strong will and steadfast character.  Bron witnessed firsthand many of other’s charitable ways: his unwavering assistance to the sick and old and the countless anonymous generous donations to the needy, even though it meant at times going without food and clothing. He took note how Doku most brave in defending the weak: so many lives were spared fending off the local hoodlums and many widows and orphans fared better or survived their harsh circumstance, because of Doku’s cavort aid.

At long last couple hours before dawn the tunnel was finally complete. Now the people could use it and travel in safety. Covered in dust and dirt,  Doku now prostrated himself before Bron in readiness for death.


“Thank you for your patience and help. Now you may cut off my head. I bear you no ill will. My work is done.”

“How can I cut off my own teacher’s head?” asked Bron lowering his head with tears brimming in his eyes.

The End.

Canadian Happy Thanksgiving 2016

Canadian Happy Thanksgiving 2016


Thanksgiving Day in Canada, celebrated on the second Monday of October, falls this year on October 10.

Historically this holiday had its roots in religious cultural traditions as prayers of thanks and their corresponding ceremonies are the norm among many religions after the harvest.


 Today, however, it is primarily celebrated as a secular holiday. It is considered a statutory holiday in all provinces except for New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Despite their businesses being open, many Maritimers join in the celebrations regardless.

The origin of the first Thanksgiving in Canada can be traced all the way back to the explorer Martin Frobisher, who strove to find the Northwest Passage.

His Thanksgiving celebration, the giving of thanks, was not for a harvest but for his and his crew’s fortitude and their survival of the grueling long journey from England that led through the perils of storms and icebergs.

 In 1578, on his third and final voyage to these regions in Frobisher Bay in Baffin Island (present-day Nunavut), during the formal ceremony and the first-ever service ministered by the preacher Robert Wolfall in which they celebrated Communion, Frobisher gave thanks to God. Hence the Thanksgiving tradition was born and it continued on with subsequent settlers that arrived in the Canadian colonies.

Canadian Thanksgiving can also be traced back to the French settlers who came to New France with the explorer Samuel de Champlain in the early 17th century. The French settlers celebrated their successful bounty at the end of the harvest season. The feast and the sharing of food also included the indigenous people of the area. Champlain had also proposed the creation of the Order of Good Cheer in 1606.

With the arrival of many more immigrants in Canada, the celebrations of a good harvest became a common event.  Scottish, Irish and Germans settlers have also enriched this tradition of giving thanks for the good harvest.



The US tradition of Thanksgiving (such as the turkey or what were called  Guinea fowls originating from  Madagascar), was also  incorporated when United Empire Loyalist fled from the United States during the American Revolution and settled in Canada.


This old Canadian tradition of giving thanks during family gatherings, regardless of religions and creeds, will undoubtedly grow and flourish, for many years to come.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


And Finally, I would like to include this nice Zen story about what it means to be thankful:

The Giver Should Be Thankful

The master of Engaku in Kamakura,  Seisetsu was so well known for his teachings  that many flocked to his tutelage.  Consequently, the School’s accommodations became seriously overcrowded.


Umezu Sibei, a highly successful merchant of Edo, happened to be visiting the region and so paid a courtesy visit to the esteemed teacher.  Noting the meagre lodgings of the school and feeling rather magnanimous he, on his return to his residence, made arrangements to donate five hundred pieces of gold (ryo) towards the construction of a more spacious school.  


A few days later, his chest swelling with pride, Umezu revisited the school and personally handed the sack of gold over to the teacher Seiseutsu. But when Seisetsu simply received the amount with his matter-of-fact attitude and only the assertion: “All right. I will take it.”, Umezu became highly dissatisfied.

One can live a whole year on just three ryo, Umezu grumbled under his breath, yet I’ve not received even a simple thank you for my magnanimous gift of five hundred ryo?


Refusing to take his leave,  Umezu  shifted uncomfortably and, after clearing  his throat with a slight cough,  added poignantly: “You know of course that in that sack are five hundred ryo?”

“Yes I know; you mentioned it previously.” Seisetsu replied impassively, turning to leave.

“Though I’m a wealthy merchant, five hundred ryo is still considered a hefty sum,” Umezu grumbled rather loudly.


“Do you wish a thank you for it?” Half turning, Seisetsu asked.

“Well, don’t you think you ought to?” responded Uzemu.

Seisetsu simply said: “Why? It’s the giver who should be thankful. ”



The Taste of Banzo’s Sword

The Taste of Banzo’s Sword


Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.


So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. “You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?” asked Banzo. “You cannot fulfill the requirements.”


“But if I work hard, how many years will it take me to become a master?” persisted the youth.

“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo.


“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”

“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented.


“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro. “If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”

“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.


“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”

“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”


“Very well,” declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, “I agree.”

Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordsmanship.


Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.

But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.

The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.


After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword.

He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.


The End