A Collection of Koans
January 7, 2013 · 6:00am EST · Posted by Fujiyama Dojo
Fujiyama Dojo
P.O. Box 20003
Thorold, ON, Canada
L2V 5B3
(905) 680-6389

After winning several archery contests, the young and rather boastful champion challenged an old Zen priest who was also renowned for his skill as an archer.

During their contest, the young champion demonstrated remarkable technical proficiency when he hit a distant bull's-eye on his first try, and then split the same arrow with his second shot. "There," he said to the old priest, "see if you can match that!"

Undisturbed, the priest did not draw his bow, but rather motioned for the young man to follow him up the mountain. Curious about the old man's intentions, the young champion followed him high up into the mountain until they reached a deep chasm spanned by a rather flimsy and shaky log. Calmly stepping out onto the middle of the unsteady and certainly perilous piece of wood, the old priest picked a faraway tree as a target, drew his bow and fired a clean direct hit. "Now it is your turn," he said as he gracefully stepped back onto safe ground.

Staring with terror into the seemingly bottomless and beckoning abyss, the young champion, frozen with fear, could not make himself to step out onto the log, no less shoot at the target.

"You have much skill with your bow," the priest said, sensing his challenger's predicament, "but you have little skill with the mind that lets loose the arrow."

Chasing Two Rabbits

A martial arts student approached his teacher with the question, "I'd like to improve my knowledge of the martial arts. In addition to learning from you, I'd also like to study with another teacher in order to learn another style. What do you think of this idea?"

"The hunter who chases two rabbits," answered the master, "catches neither one."


During a momentous battle, a samurai general decided to attack even though his army was greatly outnumbered. He was confident they would win, but his men were filled with doubt. On the way to the battle, they stopped at a shrine. After praying with the men, the general took out a coin and said, "I shall now toss this coin. If it is heads, we shall win. If tails, we shall lose. Destiny will now reveal itself."

He threw the coin into the air and all watched intently as it landed. It was heads. The soldiers were so overjoyed and filled with confidence that they vigorously attacked the enemy and were victorious. After the battle, a lieutenant remarked to the general, "No one can change destiny."

"Quite right," the general replied as he showed the lieutenant the coin, which had heads stamped on both sides.


There once lived a great master swordsman and even though quite old, he was still able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his physical strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the warrior's challenge. As the two squared off to duel, the warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the warrior exhausted himself and knowing he was defeated, left in shame.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not actually fight the insolent warrior; his students gathered around the old master and questioned him. "How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?"

"If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it," the master replied, "to whom does the gift belong?"

Tea Combat

A master of the tea ceremony in old Edo once accidentally slighted a samurai. He quickly apologized, but the rather impetuous samurai demanded that the matter be settled with a sword duel. The tea master, who had no experience with swords, asked the advice of a friend who did possess such skill.

As he was being served by the tea master, the swordsman could not help but notice how he performed his art with perfect concentration and tranquility. "Tomorrow," the swordsman said, "when you duel the samurai, hold your sword above your head, as if ready to strike, but face him with the same concentration and tranquility with which you perform this tea ceremony."

The next day, at the appointed time and place for the duel, the tea master followed this advice. The samurai, readying himself to strike, stared for a long time into the fully attentive but calm face of the tea master. Finally, the samurai lowered his sword, apologized for his arrogance, and left without a single blow being struck.

The Present Moment

A samurai was captured by his enemies and thrown into prison. That night he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his master came to him, "Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now."

Heeding these words, the samurai found peace and fell asleep.


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