Home-Grown Gongans are written by either my teacher,  Andre Taesan Halow, or myself. They aren't "official" gongans--they're not from the Blue Cliff record or any of the other recognized collections. You may find them enjoyable, annoying, funny, thought-producing, or no-thought producing.

Case 1: Buddha is Hungry

The Master ascended the rostrum, and asked the assembly, “What did Buddha have for breakfast?!? Answer quickly!”
The monks sat in stunned silence, then slowly started to answer:
“Mangoes,” “Rice porridge,” “bananas,” “Don't know.”
The Master said, “Oh, Buddha is still very hungry!”
Finally one monk answered, “Weetabix!”
The Master nearly fell over.

  1. “Buddha is still very hungry,” what does this mean?

  2. Why did the Master fall over?

  3. What did Buddha have for breakfast?


Case 2: Empty Sky

One day, a new monk came to the temple. When meeting the Abbott, he bowed to him and said nothing. The Abbott asked the monk, “What is your name, and why are you here?”
The monk identified himself as “空的天空 (Kōng de tiānkōng--Empty Sky). I am here to learn the Buddhadharma.”
The Abbott laughed and said, “Where does air end and sky begin? If you learn that, you have learned the Buddhadharma.”
The monk bowed, turned around and left the temple, muttering, “This stupid old man has nothing.”

  1. Why did the monk leave?

  2. Your name is Empty Sky. Is the sky empty or is your mind empty?

  3. How would you answer the Abbott’s final question?

Empty Sky.jpg

Case 3: Snakes with Legs

An old monk and a novice walked many miles through the mountains to attend a talk by a well-known Sutra master Zhùzuò Wèidào. Halfway through his talk on the Diamond Sutra, the old monk fell asleep and had to be nudged awake by the novice. The old monk yawned loudly and caught the attention of the Sutra Master.
“Head full of dragons, mouth full of snakes with legs,” the old monk said.
The novice asked, “How can you say that Master? He is so learned!”
The old monk retorted, “This Sutra woke Huineng up, this man only put me to sleep.”

  1. What flavor did the Sutra Master give to the Sutra?

  2. What does “head full of dragons, mouth full of snakes with legs” mean?

  3. What do you have, dragon or snake?


Snake w Legs.JPG

Case 4: Silent Master & Student

A layman came to the Dharma room, and proceeded to make a running commentary on the Master’s talk:
Master: “Your True Self is your True Nature is your Buddha Nature.”
Layman: “There is no self!”
M: “In the realm of the non-dual, there is not a thing that is not Buddha.”
L: “‘Not a thing’ is dualistic!”
M: “Even the most ignorant and deluded among us is Buddha.”
L: “You should know!”
M: “Great student, you seem very learned. Can you please enlighten us as to the Great Way?”
The layman was dumbstruck. The Master, after a time of uncomfortable silence said, “Ah, thank you for your teaching!”

  1. What was the Master’s mistake?

  2. What was the layman's mistake?

  3. What was the layman’s great teaching?


Case 5: The Girl Runs into Traffic

A child stood on the side of the road, and suddenly she began to run out into oncoming traffic. Two men stood on the corner and saw what was happening. One man screamed, “Little girl! Stop!”
The little girl stopped in the middle of the street.
The other one was silent, but grabbed the girl and pulled her back onto the sidewalk. He then gave her a swat on the behind.
The girl’s mother came up to them and slapped both men, as well as the little girl. Both men then slapped the mother. The mother had a great awakening, and all three then scolded the little girl, who started to cry.

  1. Who performed the correct action?

  2. Why did the mother slap both men?

  3. What awakened the mother?

traffic girl.jpg

Case 6: The Student Listens

The Master and his attendant were going silently down the road. Suddenly, the Master turned to the young monk and shouted, “I talked to a bird about air, he didn’t listen. I spoke to the fish about water, he didn’t listen. I spoke to the wave about the ocean, he didn’t listen. When I speak of the Dharma to you, you listen. What is wrong with you!?!?”
The young monk thought for a moment, then said to the old man, “You talk too much,” and walked off on his own, having had a great awakening. The Master just stared at the ground, then once the monk was out of sight, smiled broadly.

  1. If you were the Master, how would you answer the young monk?

  2. What would you say to the fish, bird, and wave?

  3. Why did the Master smile?


fish and birds.jpg