Book Review: Zen Antics: 100 Stories of Enlightenment, translated and edited by Thomas Cleary

spiritedStarred Page By spirited, 19th Dec 2015 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL
Posted in Wikinut>Reviews>Books>Religion & Spirituality

Good books can change lives. This book is such a good book.

Whether it changes your life though will depend on whether you see the rather simple stories, and tales here, as just interesting reading, or on whether you can see that they all contain some type of an inner truth buried within them, that you might just be able to use in your own life too.

If you want your life to be changed, it will be from your reading of this book.

The book and its author, or more its translator

This book was first published by Shambala Publications, in 1993. It is a rather small book of only 99 pages.

The author has written many other books too. He has also translated a lot of other works from Buddhism, and Taoism. Many of these were of the classic texts of these great philosophies.

I particularly like his renditions of some of the well-known Zen stories (well known to Zen scholars, but not so much to the ordinary reader), of which this book is one of these.

Some of his stories are only short, and others take a few pages of his book to complete.

Here is one of the more shorter ones:


A monk asked the Zen master Bankei, “Is it not harmless to joke around in spontaneous moments of levity?”

Bankei said, “It's all right if you want to lose trust.”

He didn't say if you wanted to lose some trust, he said if you wanted to lose trust.

Is this rather subtle distinction important or not though?

Trust cannot be lost in part, or in parts really. It is really all or nothing. You cannot partly trust anyone.

This is the point that he makes here. If trust is lost, you lost contact with who that person really is, feeling that they are not serious in what they say, or that they are not being fair-dinkum, as us Aussies say.

Photo credit:

The photo used in this section of this article is my own photo.

The book is packed full of fables, anecdotes, and interesting historical stories too

Here is another short story included in this book.

Talking and Listening

Gettan used to say to his companions,

“When you have a talking mouth, you have no listening ears. When you have listening ears, you have no talking mouth. Think about this carefully.”

Perhaps Jesus Christ also was alluding to this idea when he said in the Christian bible.

“Then Jesus said, 'Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.'”

This comes from Saint Mark's gospel, chapter 4, verse 9.

I actually like to make up some of these short types of Zen stories myself.

In my next section of this article I will include one of my own stories.

Photo credit:

The photo used in this section of this article is my own photo.

A brief note on what Zen is all about

Wisdom is the truth of God being lived rightly from his love.

The wisdom of Zen is one way to do this.

This wisdom is slowly accumulated from our understanding that is being gained from our consciousness becoming more aware of the inherent meaning of things that relate to love. All things relate in a way to God's love that then reveals love's truths to us, when that love is being wisely applied.

Living truth is living the wisdom of love.

Zen wisdom does not come from our thinking. It comes from that flash of insight that breaks past all thought, and reaches into a deeper understanding in a way that becomes a new knowing of yet one more truth being revealed.

No amount of wisdom can be obtained by a resistant person, but a non-resistant mind absorbs all truth, and can never be overcome by anything that the world, or anyone else, ever pits against it.

In Zen, it is said that when a man becomes a sage though the understanding of wisdom, he returns to being a normal and ordinary man, once more again.

The wise are not wise within themselves, but wise because they do not try to be wise.

Zen wisdom is full of such contradictions. Duality conflicting against itself causes love to be rubbed up against itself, and the resulting friction, can result in another truth being mined from love's depths.

The understanding of such truths builds wisdom.

Zen wisdom describes things as being just as they are, whether we understand this yet to be so or not. If we could fully accept things just as they are, wisdom would live in us without us even searching for it.

Wisdom flows unconsciously in us at all times, consciously we know this, when we become enlightened.

Zen wisdom is often captured in a Zen teaching parable.

They are usually fairly short in length, and make a particular point, by showing the reader a certain aspect of a Zen truth.

This book contains some great wisdom within its pages.

Here is a link to it on

A short Zen story of my own writing

Here is one little Zen story that I made up just now, for this review.

The great Zen master Zanzin, used to say to some of his students, that he would die at 50. When he reached 50, some of these students reminded him of his statement to them.

He laughed, and died.

But why did he do this?

His time was right to go, but if his students had still wanted him to stay around (or really needed him to stay around), he would have, but he went like this to try to show them that life is short, or long, or whatever it is, but that in the end, we must all laugh at it, to see its underlying truths.

This is a great little book that contains some wonderful stories, and fables about these great Zen masters.

The stories are often deceptively simple in their telling, but they all contain a richness of truth, just hidden beneath their surface, that it might often take more than the one reading of them to find for yourself.

Here are a couple of Zen sayings to end this short review with:

“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”

“What was never lost can never be found.”

Photo Credits:

All photos used in the compilation of this article have been freely sourced from the free media site, Wikimedia Commons, unless otherwise stated.


Book Review, Book Reviews, Enlightenment, Taoism, Thomas Cleary, Zen Antics, Zen Buddhism, Zen Master, Zen Sayings, Zen Teaching Stories

Meet the author

author avatar spirited
I have been interested in the spiritual fields for over thirty five years now. My writing is mostly in this area.

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author avatar spirited
19th Dec 2015 (#)

Thanks johnnydod, it's good that you are staying around as a moderator.

This is a good site to write for. People like you have heart.

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
19th Dec 2015 (#)

Thought provoking Spirited. Proves more of a tricky wisdom!

Many live without even trying to acquire wisdom or being blissfully unaware of it even when they meet it head-on! siva

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author avatar spirited
19th Dec 2015 (#)

Yes thanks Siva.

As long as it turns into real wisdom in the end, I guess this path is OK for some.

"Different horses for different courses!

Different courses for different horses?"

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