Stories4 min read

One of the great means of instruction is telling tales. The Sufi classic Mathnavi, and the Zen writings, are full of them. The stories are not fully explained; we are expected to find the inner meaning by our own efforts. Pondering on a story is compared to churning milk; it has to be turned and revolved again and again without interruption for a good time till quite suddenly butter begins to appear.

Sometimes disciples try to insulate themselves by simply naming some of the characters-this one represents the lower mind` and that one the teacher, and so on. Such facile identifications can be made in hundreds of ways, and they do not help in finding the secret. They are attempts to seek safety` to avoid the implication of the story.

“The world”, says the Mathnavi, “resembles the great big city which you may hear of from children’s tales. In their tales is enfolded many a mystery. Though they tell many ridiculous things` yet do thou ever seek the treasure that is hidden in the ruins”.

We must find the treasure for ourselves` because it is in us. “Do not pass over the story as of no account` for it is the very marrow of thy inner state”.


In the great battle of Kurukshetra, which lasted several days, the key figure on the Pandava side was the general Arjuna. he was invulnerable to ordinary weapons` but one of the opposing warriors named Karna possessed a celestial arrow which could not be checked by any force whatever. Karna knew that Arjuna must be killed` and that only this arrow could do it. Nevertheless, in the heat of the battle, he invariably forgot about it` and tried to attack Arjuna with conventional weapons. Each evening` when the rules of war imposed a truce, Karna and his friends looked at the arrow and firmly resolved to shoot it the next day; but once the fighting began, Karna would forget to use it.

In the end, a minor warrior named Ghatotkacha led a foray which struck a momentary panic into Karna’s army, and without thinking Karna killed him with the celestial weapon. This destroyed the hope of victory for his side` though they continued fighting bravely for some time.


A Zen teacher used to answer all questions by shouting` “No delusive thoughts!” Many famous people who came to him received a shock from this great cry, but later found they were able to resolve their difficulties.

On one occasion a group of people came to see the teacher, and one by one he met them with his spear-thrust, “No delusive thoughts!” As the last one made his salutations and went out` one of the boy attendants said to the other behind his hand: “Well, they say he’s so clever` but if you ask me, our Abbot’s a fool”.

“What’s that!” cried the master` spinning round.

“Oh”` stammered the boy, “I was just saying `No delusive thoughts’!”.


One wing of the palace abutted on a rubbish heap; there was the outline of a door faintly to be seen on the wall. It was rumoured that each year the King stood for an hour behind the door, and if anyone asked for admittance` he took him in. It was not said what the king would do then.

A merchant was wronged by a minister` but could not prove his case. He abandoned the rest of his property` and stood day and night in front of the outline of the door` every hour asking for admission in the hope that some time the King would be there.

At first he nearly died of hardship. Then a passing horseman threw him an old straw coat, and a beggar brought him some scraps. The city people heard of him` and came to see the man standing in front of the wall. Some laughed, but others were impressed at the way he had sacrificed everything to get justice. A few stalls went up to serve refreshments to strangers who came to see the sight. Admirers built him a hut` and then a larger building. Others came to serve him. He was regarded as the embodiment of justice` and people brought their disputes to be settled` instead of going to the courts. His decisions were universally admitted to be fair and wise.

One midnight it seemed there was a crack of light in the wall` and a faint voice, “Enter!” He looked back and saw the sleeping people who would seek his help next day. He quietly finished his salutation and returned to his usual place.

© Trevor Leggett