I am looking for a book of kōans that contains things like the following:

Nasreddin Khodja commanded his disciples, when he sneezed, to salute him by clapping their hands and crying out: "Haïr Ollah, Khodja," that is "Prosperity to thee, O Master!" Now it came to pass that on one of the days the bucket fell into the well [...] he descended, caught the bucket, and the boys were already pulling him up, when, just as he was drawing near the edge of the well, he chanced to sneeze. Whereupon they, mindful of the master's behest, let go the rope and, clapping their hands in high glee, cried out in chorus: "Haïr Ollah, Khodja," Nasreddin was precipitated violently into the well, bruising himself against the sides. [...] "Well, boys, it was not your fault, but mine: too much honour is no good thing for man."


A farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbors gathered upon hearing the news and said sympathetically, “That’s such bad luck.” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The horse returned on his own the next morning, and brought seven wild horses with it. “Look how many more horses you have now,” the neighbors exclaimed. “How lucky!” “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

The next day, the farmer’s son attempted to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. “How awful,” the neighbors said. “It looks like your luck has turned for the worse again.” The farmer simply replied, “Maybe.”

The following day, military officers came to town to conscript young men into the service. Seeing the son’s broken leg, they rejected him. The neighbors gathered round the farmer to tell him how fortunate he was. “Maybe,” said the farmer.


An elder monk was addressing his students with a large staff. He asked the first student, "What is the Buddha mind?" The first student answered as well as he could, and said "To know the Buddha nature in all things." The elder monk hit the first student in the head with the staff.

He went to the next student, and asked again: "What is the Buddha mind?" The next student answered "non attachment," and the elder monk hit him with the stick, too.

He asked the third student the same question, and the third student did nothing but quake in fear. That student got a knock on the head as well.

The process continued until one of the elder monk's students, before the elder monk had even finished his question, grabbed the stick out of his hand. That was the correct answer.


A Zen Master lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain. One evening, while he was away, a thief sneaked into the hut only to find there was nothing in it to steal. The Zen Master returned and found him. "You 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, but he took the clothes and ran away. The Master sat naked, watching the moon. "Poor fellow," he mused, " I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."

Is there such a book? If so, what is its name?

I would like to read more of these types of enlightening little stories.

I don't like kōans that are heavy on doctrines.

4 Answers 4


Two of the ones you quoted are new to me (and two are not).

There's a collection of 101 such stories here: http://www.ashidakim.com/zenkoans/zenindex.html

These koans, or parables, were translated into English from a book called the Shaseki-shu (Collection of Stone and Sand), written late in the thirteenth century by the Japanese Zen teacher Muju (the "non-dweller"), and from anecdotes of Zen monks taken from various books published in Japan around the turn of the 20th century.

I think this is a well-known collection; I don't know whether you consider it "heavy on doctrines".

  • This is a great collection that I do not consider "heavy on doctrines". Thanks for sharing! Oct 16, 2016 at 23:23
  • I just noticed that your first quote isn't a Buddhist koan: it's one of the tales of the "Mullah Nasreddin". There are anthologies of those (see e.g. the Wikipedia article, and several more listed here).
    – ChrisW
    Oct 17, 2016 at 0:06

The Gateless Gate is a classic koan compilation.


I think it's important to point out that what you are citing aren't koans per se. Excepting the third one you've quoted, these would be better labeled as stories or parables. A koan doesn't try to convey an intellectual lesson but rather attempts to point out either an obstacle a student is wrestling with or a characteristic of the enlightened mind.

Every koan (literally a legal case) can be separated into two parts. First, there is usually a little story that may or may not make much sense to us intellectually. A example that will be familiar to most is the Buddha holding up a flower on Vulture Peak. The second part of the koan is called the turning phrase. This phrase expresses the "essence" of the koan. A teacher usually provides you with that. I mean, you really can't tease out the essence of a koan until you've answered it, right? ;-) (And I'd say that even after you answer it, you still might not understand its essence!)

The turning phrase is probably the most important part of the koan. It's what the student would apply their mind to in meditation - saying that phrase on every out breath. I'd even go so far as to say that it's what makes the koan what it is...and it's the reason why the sources you quoted don't quite pass muster as an official koan. The turning phrase is both the vehicle for entering mushin (e.g. one-pointed attention on emptiness) and the place where insight occurs. In the example of Buddha holding up a flower, the student would say "flower" on every out breath. As the student did this, their mind would become collected and blank. As their mind settled into mushin, they would then begin to explore what the word "flower" was really pointing at.

Three of the best known koan collections are the Mumonkan, The Blue Cliff Record, and the Book of Serenity. If you are interested in learning more about koans, I cannot recommend Sekida's translations of the Mumonkon and Blue Cliff Record highly enough. They're the best available in English and his footnotes are indispensable. If you are interested in practicing Zen and really want to learn what these koan things are all about, you absolutely must work with a teacher. Zen is very much an oral tradition of live transmission. You can't go it alone.


There is a YouTube channel / site where actual Zen masters will read out koans for a crispy treat the gateless gate is really good and if you can track a copy of " the Zen bible " that has a mixture of study and story.. Also our of Zen ...the gospel of Buddha has very early stories similar to koans ..one such story is of a mother grieving for only son ....it's titled story of mustard seeds.. Just. Google this info and enjoy :: edit just go into Google ...then YouTube type in Zen talks ...the Zen bible is also on Google it's in my very congested room it would take me a day to retrieve please understand I use Google plus input topic and there you go...

  • What's the URL or title of the YouTube channel? What's the title or author of the "the Zen bible"? The story of the mustard seed is here (it's not exactly a Zen koan).
    – ChrisW
    Oct 26, 2016 at 9:43
  • If we are being pedantic ...is there any reason why you haven't got instant dharma on Google ?? As for mustard seed I said it's like a koan ie a story
    – user10244
    Oct 26, 2016 at 10:17
  • If I could guess what you were referring to by reading google.com/search?q=youtube%20zen%20talks and/or google.com/search?q=%20zen%20bible then I'd edit your post myself; but what you wrote isn't specific enough for me to use Google to find what you were referring to.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 26, 2016 at 10:23
  • See also How should we deal with Google questions? which is part of the Stack Exchange FAQ.
    – ChrisW
    Oct 26, 2016 at 10:28

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