Gordon grew up in the kitchen of his family's restaurant. Eventually he opened his own small country cafe.

Occasionally, one or more of the members of a sexually free commune would eat in Gordon's cafe. Gordon had heard that they sometimes invited outsiders to an orgy. He cultivated a relationship with one of the women from the commune who was interested in Gordon's Zen of Cooking. Eventually she invited him to the commune for a feast.

Gordon, hoping that "feast" was just another name for orgy, accepted the invitation. At the commune, he was disappointed to see that many of the visitors were couples with children. Gordon new then that there would be no orgy so he concentrated on the food.

At the end of the feast, he prepared to leave and thanked his hostess. She asked him if the food had disappointed him. Gordon said that the food was good, but he admitted that he had secretly hoped the feast was an orgy.

His hostess said, "You always talked to me about food. I thought food was what interested you. Come back tomorrow night and I'll teach you the zen of accepting responsibility for what you want and asking for it."

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing to steal.

Ryokan returned and caught him. "You may have come a long way to visit me, " he told the prowler, "and you should not return empty-handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."

The thief was bewildered. He took the clothes and slunk away.

Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, "I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

Nasreddin had a leaky ferry-boat, and used it to row people across the river. One day his passenger was a fussy schoolteacher, and on the way across he decided to give Nasreddin a test and see how much he knew.

"Tell me, Nasreddin, what are eight sixes?"

"I've no idea."

"How do you spell magnificence?"

"I don't."

"Didn't you study anything at school?"


"In that case, half your life is lost."

Just then a fierce storm blew up, and the boat began to sink.

"Tell me, schoolteacher," said Nasreddin. "Did you ever learn to swim?"


"In that case, your whole life is lost."

(Thanks to Ereneta for pointing out the Sufi origins of the Nasreddin tale.)

(Some of the better koans from www.nozen.com, all three of which I have encountered in slightly different forms in the course of my studies of Japanese Buddhism.)

There was once a student of archery who displayed such skill that he won a tournament in his city at a very young age. Seeing his potential, his parents sent him to study under various master archers. Everywhere the boy went he entered himself in tournaments where his accuracy never failed to win him first place.

Several years passed, and the boy grew to be a young man. He heard of an old man living in a small village who was reputed to be the greatest of all archers. He sought the old man out, and when he met him, he challenged him to a contest.

Taking up his bow, the young man fired at a distant tree, hitting it square in the middle of its trunk. The old man did not seem impressed, so he drew another arrow and fired again, this time hitting his first arrow and splitting it in half with his shot.

The old master still did not seem impressed, so the young man said:

"You are supposed to be the best archer in the world, show me how well you can shoot."
The master walked away, and bemused, the young man followed him. Eventually they came to a deep ravine across which a tree had fallen. The old man calmly stepped onto the fallen log and fired an arrow into the trunk of a tree on the other side of the ravine.

He stepped back onto the ground and challenged the young man to try the same shot, but he could not bring himself to step onto the log. The old man smiled and said:

"What good does it do to master the use of your bow when you have not even mastered the use of your own mind?"

A student one day went to his master and said, "Master, is there a heaven? Is there a hell?"
His master simply stared at him silently, saying nothing.
In a fit of rage, the student drew a sword from a nearby stand, and went to strike down his master for saying nothing
The master spoke softly, "Thus opens the path to Hell."
The student, in shock, lowered the blade, then dropped it at his feet and bowed to his master.
The master spoke, smiling, "And thus opens the path to Heaven"

This tale has also been retold as such-

A soldier named Nobushige came to Hakuin and asked, "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"
"Who are you?", asked Hakuin.
"I am a samurai.", the warrior replied.
You, a soldier!", exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar."
Nobushige became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued, "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably much too dull to cut off my head."
As Nobushige drew his sword, Hakuin remarked, "Here open the gates of hell!"
At these words, the samurai, perceiving the master's discipline, sheathed his sword and bowed.
"Here open the gates of paradise.", said Hakuin.

Edited: Fixed a typo in the comments, thanks Themanwho!

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