When I was young I went through my period of fascination with Zen. I still hold some Zen teachings dear to my heart, but these days I wouldn't be able to you what Mahāyāna Buddhism is really about and what Tenets there are, if any.

During that period, I remember wanting to study Zen officially, but the only school close to me was in Rome, and travelling there from my place was a bit of a commitment. Despite that, one day I gathered all my motivation, took the car and decided to drive all of way there. After fighting through late-evening traffic in Rome I managed to find a parking spot close enough to the place and I finally got at the Zen school, only 5 minutes late. I think it was 5 past 8, which is why taking the train was not a possibility, given the last train home used to have been at 10:30pm and I imagine this would be at least a 2 hour affair.

When I tried to enter, after knocking on the main door, the people from the school politely told me that the lesson was already started and that I couldn't join them.

That day I realized that official Zen was not for me.

After that episode I also thought about how nobody would really kick you out of mass if you entered 5 minutes after the ceremony has started.. an maybe there was something be learned there.

But anyway, one of the Zen koans that I remember fondly is one that I originally read in a small comic book I had, called "Dice lo Zen" (Zen Speaks: Shouts of Nothingness, ISBN-10 0385472579).

Two monks and a woman

The story goes that two monks, a senior and a junior, are traveling together through a forest. At some point they come to a river with a strong current, where they see that a young woman is waiting, unable to cross alone. She asks the monks if they would help her cross the river. In spite of the sacred vow he has taken, prohibiting him to touch women, the older monk picks her up, crosses the body of water and gently sets her down on the other side.

The younger monk then also crosses the river with them, and keeps to himself incredulous and in full disbelief thinking that the older monk has broken his vow. But doesn’t say anything. An hour passes as they travel on and he walks aghast. Then two hours. Then three. Finally, the now agitated younger monk can keep it inside no longer, and asks: “As monks, we are not permitted to touch women. How could you then carry her on your shoulders?”

The older monk replies, “I set her down hours ago by the side of the river. Why are you still carrying her?”