The Lion and the Gazelle

Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up.

It knows it must outrun the fastest lion, or else it will be killed.

Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up.

It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or else it will starve.

So, it doesn’t matter whether you’re the lion or the gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.

– Adapted from an African proverb.


Heart of a Buddha

Once upon a time, a famous army general travelling the Himalayas crossed paths with a zen master. A proud man, the general wished to impress his superiority over the monk.

They conversed over freshly brewed tea. Finally, after a moment of pause, the general asked, “Old man, would you like to know what I really think of you?”

“I am not concerned with what you think of me. Certainly, you are entitled to your own opinion,” the zen master replied.

“Well, I shall tell you what I think, anyway. In my eyes, you are just like a pile of horse dung!” said the general, chortling to himself.

The zen master simply smiled and remained silent.

Seeing that his insult had washed over the monk with no effect, he asked, perplexedly: “And what do you think of me?”

“In my eyes, you are just like the Buddha.”

Having seemingly had the better of the exchange, the famous army general left extremely happy with himself.

Back at camp that evening, the general boasted to his wife about the encounter.

“You fool!” his wife remarked.

“When a man has a heart like a pile of horse dung, he sees the world – everyone and everything in it – in that light. When a man has a heart like a Buddha, he sees the world – everyone and everything in it – in that light. The zen master has the heart of a Buddha. That is why, in his eyes, everyone – even you – is like the Buddha.”

– Adapted from a Buddhist parable.


The Best

Once upon a time, a monk was taking a walk through a thriving bazaar, where he overheard a conversation between a storekeeper and his customer.

“Give me the best bananas that you have,” the customer requested.

“Sir, everything in my shop is the best,”replied the storekeeper.

“You will not find any piece of fruit here that is not the best.”

With these words, the monk became enlightened.

— Adapted from a Buddhist parable.

Fate (is in Your Hands)

Once upon a time, there was a military general who was preparing to lead his army into battle.

While drawing up battle plans, the general estimated that the enemy forces were ten times the size of his own.

On way to the battle field, the troops stopped by a small temple to pray for victory.

The general held up a coin and told his troops:

“I am going to implore the gods to help us crush our enemy!

If this coin lands with ‘heads’ on top, we shall win.

If it is ‘tails’, then we shall lose.

Our fate is in the hands of the gods.

So, let us pray wholeheartedly.”

After reciting a short prayer, the general tossed the coin: it landed with ‘heads’ on top.

The troops were overjoyed, and they entered into battle with high spirits.

As the coin had predicted, the general’s men were victorious over their considerably larger enemy forces.

The soldiers were jubilant. “It is good to have the gods on our side! None shall change what they have determined!”

“Are you sure?” the general asked. He then stood up and removed something from his pocket, showing it to his men.

It was the coin: both sides of it were ‘heads’.

— Adapted from a Chinese folk tale.

Two Monks and the River Crossing

Once upon a time, a zen master and his protégé travelled cross-country together on a pilgrimage.

On the first day, they arrived at a river bank and saw a beautiful woman who was unable to cross the river.

After observing her difficulties, the zen master approached the woman and volunteered to carry her across the river on his back. The protégé looked on with great consternation.

As sunset approached, the two men arrived at a forest clearing and decided to set up camp there for the night.

After dinner, the zen master quickly fell asleep. The protégé, on the other hand, was restless and unable to calm his mind.

Finally, he decided to wake up the zen master in order to castigate him for what took place earlier that day.

“Master, as monks, are we not forbidden from coming into contact with women? I am very distressed and angry with your conduct today!” exclaimed the protégé.

The zen master looked into his student’s eyes and then smiled.

“Oh, I see what has been bothering you,” said the zen master.

“Dear friend, I left the woman behind, by the river bank. Why are you still carrying her around?”

— Adapted from a Buddhist parable.

The Smiling Lady

There was once an old lady who cried all the time.

Her elder daughter was married to an umbrella merchant, while her younger daughter was married to a noodle vendor.

On sunny days, the old lady worried, “Oh dear, the weather is so nice and sunny! No-one is going to buy any umbrellas. What will happen if the shop has to be closed?”

These worries made her sad; she could not help but cry.

When it rained, the old lady would cry for her younger daughter. She thought, “Oh dear, it is raining! One cannot dry noodles without the sun. Now, there will be no noodles to sell. What will happen if the shop has to be closed?”

And so, the old lady lived in perpetual sorrow.

Whether sunny or rainy, she grieved for one of her daughters. Her neighbours could not console her and, jokingly, they called her “the crying lady”.

One day, the old lady met a zen master; he was very curious as to why she was always crying.

She explained her problems to him.

The zen master smiled kindly and said, “Madam, you need not worry. I will show you a way to happiness, and you will need to grieve no more.”

The crying lady was very excited; she immediately asked the zen master to show her what to do.

The master replied, “It is very simple: you just need to change your perspective.”

“On sunny days, do not think of your elder daughter not being able to sell umbrellas, but rather your younger daughter being able to dry her noodles. With such radiant sunlight, she will be able to make plenty of noodles, and her shop will be very prosperous. When it rains, think about the umbrella store of your elder daughter. With the rain, all the villagers will be purchasing umbrellas, and her shop will be very prosperous.”

The zen master made an impression on the old lady; she decided to follow his advice.

After some time, the old lady did not cry anymore and, instead, she was smiling everyday.

From that day on, she was known as “the smiling lady”.

— Adapted from a Buddhist parable.

Letting Go

Vanilla Sky

I suppose, in the end, the whole of life becomes an act of letting go, but what always hurts the most is not taking a moment to say goodbye.

– Life of Pi

The Search for Enlightenment

There once was a poor man who, every day, led a donkey across the border from one country to another.

The border guards suspected him of being a smuggler. So, each day, as the man crossed the border, they carefully searched him and the donkey’s saddlebags.

However, they never found anything.

After some time, the man was seen wearing more expensive clothes, and he purchased a large house.

The border guards decided to intensify their efforts, inspecting the man and his donkey more closely, as they were now certain that he was a smuggler.

However, in their daily searches of the man and the saddlebags, the border guards never found anything – only straw.

After 30 years of this daily routine, one of the border guards retires.

One day, when the retired border guard is walking to market, he runs into the man and says “Sir, I am no longer a border guard. I can no longer hurt you. I need peace of mind, and I promise never to tell anyone – please tell me what you have been smuggling for so many years.”

“Only because I know that you can no longer arrest me, I shall tell you,” replies the man, before taking pause.

“I was smuggling donkeys.”

— Adapted from a Buddhist parable.

The 84th Problem

A man once came to see the Buddha to get help with his problems.

After the man had told the Buddha about one of his problems and asked for help, the Buddha replied: “I cannot help you get rid of this problem.”

The man was surprised that the Buddha could not help him.

So the man told the Buddha about another problem. He thought to himself, that: ‘The Buddha should at least be able to help me with this problem.”

However, the Buddha told him, “I cannot help you with this problem, either.”

The man started to get impatient.

“How can it be that you are the perfectly enlightened Buddha, when you cannot even help people get rid of their problems?” he asked.

The Buddha replied, “You will always have 83 problems in your life. Sometimes a problem will go, but then another problem will come. I cannot help you with that.”

“So, what can you help me with, then?”

“I can help you get rid of your 84th problem.”

“But what is my 84th problem?” asked the man.

“That you want to get rid of your 83 problems.”

— Adapted from a Buddhist parable.

Eat When You Are Hungry

One day, a monk asked his zen master, “Master, how do you practice zen?”

The master replied, “When you are hungry: eat. When you are tired: sleep.”

“But master, is that not what everyone does, anyway?”

“Sadly, no. Most people entertain a thousand desires when they eat, and scheme over a thousand plans when they sleep.”

— Adapted from a Buddhist parable.

Schrödinger’s Cat

In 1935, Erwin Schrödinger, in an attempt to explain the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum physics, proposed an experiment where a cat is placed in a box with a sealed vial of poison that will break open at a random time.

Since no-one knows when or if the poison has been released, until the box is opened, the cat can be thought of as both alive and dead.

It is only by opening the box that you will find out which it is.

— Adapted from ‘The Big Bang Theory’.

The Story of the Hippo

The hippopotamus.
He is not born, going:
“Cool bean, I am a hippo!”
No way, José.

So, he tries to paint stripes on himself,
to be like the zebra,
but he fools no one.

And then he tries to put spots on his skin,
to be like the leopard,
but everyone knows he is a hippo.

So, at a certain point,
he looks himself in the mirror,
and he just says,
“Hey! I am a hippopotamus,
and there is nothing I can do about it.”

And, as soon as he accepts this,
he lives life happy:
Happy as a hippo.

— Adapted from ‘Along Came Polly’.

The Zen Master and the Little Boy

There was a little boy, and on his fourteenth birthday he gets a horse.
And everybody in the village says, “How wonderful, the boy got a horse!”
And the zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Two years later, the boy falls off the horse, breaks his leg.
And everybody in the village says, “How terrible!”
And the zen master says, “We’ll see.”

Then, a war breaks out, and all the young men have to go off and fight.
Except the boy can’t, because his leg’s all messed up.
And everybody in the village says, “How wonderful!”
And the zen master says, “We’ll see.”

— Adapted from ‘Charlie Wilson’s War’.