Koans and Riddles - Examples

A Selection from the Original Sources

the person

Koan: Who are you?


Koan riddles, Zen-Koans, Buddhist Koans, Zen-riddles are only different names for short Buddhist stories from medevial China.

The stories are about simple everyday events like tipping over a pot, climbing a tree, hurting somebody, cleaning a bowl, lighting a candle etc. Everybody knows what's happening.

Chinese and Japanese Master changed these stories into Koans, mysterious teachings of Buddhism, normal people can't understand.

In 18th century Japan Koans were seen as riddles whose answers were the everyday events, the Koans originally were derived from.

Eight Koan examples.

All Koans are presented in the same way. First the underlying event, "what had happened". Second, in bold letters, the text of the Koan. Third, a short comment and the source of the Koan. Just click one of the eight Koans below.

The crying boy..... Kitchen work.....A clever Buddha.....The Shortcut

.... At the Beach.....In the City.....Not that nice.....Flooding the Floor

In case yo want more Koans.....

You find the list of 48 Koans collected of Master Wumen Huikai at the right hand side further down the page. Just click on on one of them to see the Koans and it's answers! Strange aren't they?

Koan one: The crying boy

What had happened: A boy cries all day long, as children sometimes do.

first snippet
Is this boy crying?

The Koan text:

A Master cuts off a boy's finger.
The boy cries, cries and runs away.
The master calls him back and holds up his own finger.
The boy looks at it and is enlightened.

Comment: A horror story. The master excuses his violent behavior as necessary to bring the boy to enlightenment.

Source: Mumonkan, Case 3

Explore the simplistic believes of Buddhists about enlightenment!

Koan two: Kitchen work

What had happened: A young man washes a bowl. Not that unusual.

Person I - child
Teaching or washing?

The Koan text:

Monk - Please teach me, master!
Master - Have you had your porridge yet?
Monk - Yes, master.
Master - Then wash your bowle.

Comment: No comment.

Source: Mumonkan, Case 7

Koan three: A Clever Buddha

What had happened: A boring philosophical debate.

Person I - child
Meditation or debate

The Koan text:

A scholar wanted the Buddha to express the truth of Buddhism in just one word.
The Buddha turned to the wall to meditate.

Comment:The Buddhas doesn't care about Philosophy.

Source: Mumonkan, Case 32

The 48 Koans of Master Wumen HuiKai (jap. "Mumon")

Click on the title to see question and answer.
Click on the number to see the full Koan-page.

1 Joshu's Dog

2 Hyakujo's Fox

3 Gutei's Finger

4 Beardless Bodhidharma

5 Kyogen's Man in a Tree

6 Buddha Twirls a Flower

7 Joshu's Wash your Bowl

8 Keichu's Wheel

9 A Buddha before History

10 Seizei Alone and Poor

11 Joshu Examines two Hermits

12 Zuigan Calls Himself Master

13 Tokusan Holds His Bowl

14 Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two

15 Tozan's Three Blows

16 Bells and Robes

17 The Three Calls Of The Emperor's Teacher

18 Tozan's Three Pounds of Flax

19 Everyday Life Is The Path

20 The Enlightened Man

21 Dried Dung

22 Kashyapa's Preaching Sign

23 Do Not Think Good, Do Not Think Not-Good

24 Without Words, Without Silence

25 Kyozan Preaching in a Dream

26 Two Monks Roll Up The Blinds

27 It Is Not Mind, It Is Not Buddha, It Is Not Things

28 Blow Out The Candle

29 Not The Wind, Not The Flag

30 This Mind Is Buddha

31 Joshu Investigates an Old Woman

32 A Philosopher Asks Buddha

33 Baso's Not Mind, Not Buddha

34 Nansen's Knowledge is not The Way

35 Two Souls

36 Meeting A Master On The Road

37 The Oak Tree In The Garden

38 A Buffalo Passes Through The Window

39 Ummon's Trapped in Words.

40 Tipping Over A Water Jug

41 Bodhidharma Pacifies The Mind

42 The Girl Comes Out From Meditation

43 Shuzan's Short Staff

44 Basho's Staff

45 Who Is He?

46 Step Forward from fhe Top of the Pole

47 First Gate Of Tosotsu

47 Second Gate Of Tosotsu

47 Third Gate Of Tosotsu

48 Kembo's One Road To Nirvana

Koan four: The Shortcut

What had happened: As an exercise, you walk up a mountain.

Person I - child
Walking is excercise

The Koan text:

How do you walk up a mountain road with 99 curves?

Comment:Who did all this curve counting?

Source:Miscellaneous Koans Vol 1, case 17

Koan five: At the Beach

What had happened: A stone was thrown in the water.

Person I - child
Stone reading

The Koan text:

What's written on a stone 10000 meter deep in the ocean?

Comment:Too deep to read

Source: Miscellaneous Koans Vol.1, case 12

Koan six: In the City

What had happened:You say hello to somebody you meet.

Person I - child
See you later

The Koan text:

When you meet a master in the street, what will you do?

Comment:The enlightened one!

Source:Mumonkan, Case 36

Koan seven: Not that nice

What had happened:A candle is blown out.

Person I - child
Night time

The Koan text:

Master Tokusan - "It's dark outside."
Master Ryutan - gives him a candle and blows it out.

Comment:The enlightened one!

Source:Mumonkan, Case 28

Koan eight: Flooding the Floor

What had happened:A big waterjug tips over.

Person I - child
Jug is jug

The Koan text:

Hyakujo placed a water jug on the floor.
'Don't call it a water jug.' Hyakujo said.
Isan tips it over.

Comment: Do the obvious.

Source:Mumonkan, Case 40

Go to List of all Mumonkan Cases

Go to Ancient Zen Koans

Go to Zen Riddles

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