Tiny Taoist and Zen Stories
and personal ramblings


These are favorite stories of mine, interspersed with bits of philosophical rambling. They explain things in parables that are much more difficult to express adequately in any more direct way. I hope you may enjoy some of them as much as I do. I only made up the philosophical wanderings; the rest may be unattributed quotes or folk tales, I am not sure which, so if you know the origin of any of these stories I would enjoy learning it from you.


A chinese farmer's neighbors came over to offer him their sympathy after his horse ran away. "I'm not so sure it's a misfortune", said the farmer. The neighbors left, shaking their heads.

The next day, the farmer's horse returned, and three wild horses came home with him. The neighbors returned to congratulate the farmer on his good fortune. "I'm not certain that it is good fortune", replied the farmer. The neighbors left, more bemused than before.

Later that week, the farmer's son broke his leg trying to train one of the new horses, and the neighbors came by to offer condolences. "I'm not sure this is a misfortune", said the farmer again. The neighbors left, discussing the man's mental state among themselves.

The next day, the emperor came through, gathering up young men to be in his army. They bypassed the farmer's son, since he had a broken leg.

(Attributed to popular Christian author Max Lucado by a reader of this page)

Carrying the Woman

Two zen monks were travelling. They came to a ford of a stream that was running high, and the current was strong and frightening looking. An attractive young lady was standing at the ford, looking nervous. She clearly was afraid to cross, but had an important reason to go. Without a word, the older of the two monks lifted her in his arms and waded across the stream, and placed her safely on the far bank. The younger monk looked shocked at this action, but kept his silence for quite some number of miles as they continued their journey. Finally, he blurted out "You know that it is against the rules of our order to have any contact with women. How could you do that?".

The older monk replied "I put her down when I reached the other side of the river. You, on the other hand, have been carrying her this whole way."

(an old zen story)

Wholeness and Emptiness

To appreciate wholeness entirely, you must appreciate absence and emptiness as well. A wheel is of no use without a hole for the axle to go through. A house without doors and windows has no purpose. A bag without an opening in it cannot hold anything. Music exists both because there are notes and because there are silences between the notes.

(my own philosophical wandering starting from an image from the Tao Te Ching)

Living by Intention

I need to know that I exist. I cannot know what lies beyond the end of existence, and I refuse to let my attention be taken up by it. There is too much here and now to be lost if I focus my eyes far away. Each moment holds the possibility: do I do, with this moment, that which leads to my dreams? Or do I accept by default that which is laid out before me, without being formed by my decisions? Do I let uncertainty, fear of the disapproval of others, considerations of my 'dignity', the thought that I have never chosen this choice before, do I let these things dictate my way? Or do I say "NO!" to the inertia of habit and choose each moment's course to be the one that satisfies my highest vision of myself-as-I-choose-to-be?

To have new-born eyes, to see the vast imponderable majesty of perfection in a common leaf-pile, to be emboldened by a puddle on the sidewalk to live life with the joy and abandon of a perfect child; this is the goal I seek. To see ahead of me a climb into the perfection of the moments I have passed through, without wasting regret on any path I have not chosen, to be exactly where I want to be because I chose my steps to get here -- that is the high estate to which I aspire.

I say that you can choose this aliveness by deciding what to do at any moment on no other basis than this: is this what I, in my entire soul and heart, know to be the thing I should do next? You do not ask yourself questions to know this; it comes to you from your whole body, and takes less than an instant to know, or you do not know it. You will have to practice silencing the voices of your past - mercilessly, for they will have no mercy on you and deserve none from you - but then you will hear the voice of your true self. It will know what to do so well, so perfectly gracefully that in a moment you will have lived longer than your last year of living within the mundane bounds of society, and by living fully this way, you live forever within the stretch of your lifetime.

(my own philosophical ramblings)

2 Principles to Live By

A traveler through the mountains came upon an elderly gentleman who was busy planting a tiny almond tree. Knowing that almond trees take many years to mature, he commented to the man "It seems odd that a man of your advanced age would plant such a slow-growing tree!". The man replied "I like to live my life based on two principles. One is that I will live forever. The other is that this is my last day."

(paraphrased from either Lao Tsu or Chuang-T'su)

The Loss of the Pearl of Great Price

The prince discovered, when he returned from the top of the mountain, that he had mislaid the Pearl of Great Price up on the mountain. He sent his generals and their armies to search for it, but they could not find it. He employed Huang-Ti, the vehement debater, to find the Pearl; but Huang-Ti was unable to find it. He sent his gardeners and his skilled artisans to find it, but they, too, came home empty-handed. Finally, in despair, having tried everyone else, he sent Purposeless to the mountain, and Purposeless found the Pearl immediately. "How odd it is", mused the Prince, "that it was Purposeless who found it!"

(paraphrased from Chuang T'zu)

Eating Sugar

A woman once brought her son to visit Mahatma Ghandi, who was always willing to be visited by the people of India. She asked him to please tell her son that he should stop eating sugar. "Come back in three days and I will grant your request," he said.

Three days later, she came back with her son, and Ghandi knelt down beside the boy and, looking him in the eyes, said "You really should stop eating sugar, as your mother wishes." The boy promised he would stop. The woman, curious, asked Ghandi why he did not do this on their first visit, three days earlier. He replied "Three days ago, I had not stopped eating sugar."

The Rigid, Doctrinaire Unitarian

I spent one evening listening to a discussion between two Unitarian Universalist friends of mine. One was a staunch atheist, the other a deist (believes in a God with a personality and self-awareness). They discussed their points of view for quite some time and in some detail, trying to fathom each other's point of view.

I realized two things when the discussion was over. One was that one of these parties was more respectful and reasonable, while the other tended to often become rigid and doctrinaire, in direct contradiction to the principles of the Unitarian Universalist principles to which both were, in theory, pledged. The other was that the same person that was being rigid was also quite the absolutist, believing that anyone that did not share the same point of view was clearly mistaken and suffering delusions.

On further thought, I realized that, in fact, a majority of the devout atheists I know suffer these same characteristics. I am concerned at the lack of critical thinking this implies on their part; are they simply, uncritically taking the prevailing view of our society on faith, without examining it for relevance or questioning its absolute correctness? What delicious irony!

(my own philosophical rambling)


For those who do not already know: haiku is a Japanese poetic form that developed first in China. It is closely associated with zen in Japan, as a great many of the finest haiku were from noted zen masters. It is expected to create an image in your mind, as if a tiny piece of the universe had dropped into your palm reflecting the whole universe in its delicate little lens. I do not claim these to be great haiku; I only claim that I wrote them.
I hold my hat on 
and peer between the raindrops
wind blew on my glasses.

(fall 1998)

I hold my love close.
She squeezes her hand between us,
to make it warmer.

(fall 1998)

A meadow; fresh snow.
A lone deer's tracks go down to
the clear running stream.

(winter 2000)

It's spring. Is this snow?
The wind is full of tiny
Plum petals falling.

(spring 2000)

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copyright, Bradford K. Hull, 2006