One of my favorite books right now is Zen Flesh, Zen Bones. It’s a collection of Zen stories, or paradoxes meant to teach Zen students to abandon reason and become enlightened. One doesn’t have to be a Buddhist or Zen student to appreciate the stories, but being from the western world makes it harder to grasp these riddles that come from eastern reasoning. There are no right or wrong thoughts about these koans, but they are intended to be meditated on until one reaches her own enlightenment. My favorite koan is this one:
No Water, No Moon
When the nun Chiyono studied Zen under Bukko of Engaku she was unable to attain the fruits of meditation for a long time.
At last one moonlit night she was carrying water in an old pail bound with bamboo. The bamboo broke and the bottom fell out of the pail, and at that moment Chiyono was set free!
In commemoration, she wrote a poem:
In this way and that I tried to save the old pail
Since the bamboo strip was weakening and about to break
Until at last the bottom fell out.
No more water in the pail!
No more moon in the water!