Tetsugen’s Sutras

Photo by ganap0627

Tetsugen was a zen master who lived in 17th century Japan.  He wanted to produce a Japanese edition of the buddhist sutras (scriptures) which were then only available in Chinese. This was to be an expensive project because it involved making around 60,000 wooden blocks for printing.

Tetsugen wandered around Japan collecting funds for this project. Sometimes he would meet wealthy people who would offer gold and silver, but mostly he would encounter peasants who could only afford a few small coins.

After 10 years of traveling, he had collected enough funds to start his project. But there was a great flood as the river Uji overflowed. People were left homeless and starving. Tetsugen used all the money he collected to help them.

Then he began traveling and collecting money again for his project. It was several more years before he thought he had enough. Just then, an epidemic spread throughout Japan and Tetsugen once more gave away all that he had collected to aid the afflicted ones.

Then he started traveling again. Twenty years later (and one year before he died), he was able to fulfill his dream of printing the sutras in Japanese. The original printing blocks he used are preserved today in the Obaku Monastery in Kyoto, Japan.

The Japanese like to tell their children that Tetsugen actually produced three editions of the sutras, but the first two are invisible and far superior to the last.

The Book of Wisdom

Books - Photo by Lin Pernille Kristensen

An elderly monk became famous in his town because of the appropriate and wise advice he would give to those who sought his counsel. Even the other monks and the head monk himself would go to him for advice on many matters. They always marveled at his words and the ease with which he seemingly plucked them from the air.

The words would always hit their mark. If someone needed inspiration, he would find it. If another needed brutal frankness, she would get it as well.

The elderly monk got seriously ill one day and the other monks were concerned. What would happen when this holy man was gone? Where would they turn to for advice and counsel? The sick monk inadvertently heard their whispered fears and immediately understood their concern. He called them and said, “I shall record all the wisdom that you need in a book so that when I pass away, you will have something to guide you. But you have to promise to only open it when I am gone. Now, hurry and bring me pen and paper.”

The other monks gave him a thick notebook and a pen so he could spend his waking hours writing and recording his wisdom. For the next few days, the monks who visited would see him sitting up in bed with the notebook open, and they would not stay overly long for fear of disturbing him from his work.

Three weeks after, on a fine Sunday morning, they found him sleeping peacefully in bed, his hands folded over the notebook in his chest. They understood with great sadness that this was the sleep from which no one wakes. The head monk came and reverently lifted the precious notebook from underneath the folded hands. He opened it and to his surprise, found that all the pages were blank except the last one.

And what was written there was this:

“What is in me is also in you.

You are no more than me and I no more than you.

Look within.

Search deep within.

There lies the fount of all wisdom.”

Stop eating chocolates

Boy eating chocolate - photo by Blerina Berisha
Boy eating chocolate - photo by Blerina Berisha

A mother in a small village had a little boy who absolutely loved chocolates. He would eat too much and too often that the mother feared that it would be bad for him. She approached the village elder and said, “Elder, I have a problem. My boy eats a lot of chocolate and I am afraid it will harm him. Could you please tell him to stop eating chocolate?”

The elder said, “I can help you, but give me some time. Then I will go to your house and talk to your boy.”

A day passed, then two, then three – but the elder did not come.

A week passed, then two, then three – and finally, the elder came to the house. He called the boy, looked him straight in the eye and said, “You must stop eating chocolate. It is not good for your health.” He spoke with such authority and conviction that the boy promised he would never touch chocolate again.

The mother thanked the elder, but could not help saying, “Elder, I am grateful that you came to help me. But why did it take you three weeks to come and tell my boy to stop eating chocolates?”

The elder replied, “It is very simple. Three weeks ago, I had not yet stopped eating chocolates.”

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