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I have spent the last few years fascinated by Koans, Zen Buddhism and collecting Buddhist books. Many Koans and Zen quotations seem, at first, pointless. However, they have a habit of drifting back into your mind and forcing you to think in a new way. I have learnt to stop trying to make sense of them and now allow them to be formless and not deeply analytical. I just meditate upon them without engaging logic. This has led me to start using them as a starting point for painting. My response is now a form of non representational thinking. The paintings are a simple emotional response, and like the Koan, do not demand an explanation. They are what they are. I realise I should not be influencing anyones response to a Koan, but maybe my paintings show that their influence need only be a mood or feeling, captured in my case by a colour.

Mike Heseltine

Koans that inspired the book:

The Delicious Strawberry Koan
Cow Dung Koan
Muddy Road Koan
The Moon Cannot be Stolen Koan
Cup of Tea Koan
Nothingness Koan by Lao Tzu
Is That So Koan
The Giver Should be Thankful
Time to Die Koan
The Lost Keys Koan
Trying to do, Koan

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The Moon Cannot Be Stolen

Ryokan, a Zen master, lived the simplest kind of life in a little hut at the foot of a mountain.
One evening a thief visited the hut only to discover there was nothing in it to steal.
Ryokan returned and caught him.
"You may have come a long way to visit me," he told the prowler,
"and you should not return empty handed. Please take my clothes as a gift."
The thief was bewildered.
He took the clothes and slunk away.
Ryokan sat naked, watching the moon.
"Poor fellow, " he mused,
"I wish I could give him this beautiful moon."
The moon cannot be stolen

This Moment

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger.
He fled and the tiger chased him.
Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge.
The tiger sniffed at him from above.
Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him.
Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine.
The man saw a luscious strawberry near him.
Grasping the vine with one hand,
he plucked the strawberry with the other.
How sweet it tasted!
Tiger and strawberry buddhist story

The Giver Should Be Thankful

Seisetsu was the master of a Temple. He required larger quarters, since those in which he was teaching were overcrowded. Umezu, a local merchant, decided to donate 500 pieces of gold called ryo. This money he brought to the teacher. Seisetsu said: "All right. I will take it." Umezu gave Seisetsu the sack of gold, but was dissatisfied with the teacher's attitude. One might live a whole year on 3 ryo, and the merchant had not even been thanked for 500. "In that sack are 500 ryo," hinted Umezu. "You told me that before," replied Seisetsu. "Even if I am a wealthy merchant, 500 ryo is a lot of money," said Umezu. "Do you want me to thank you for it?" asked Seisetsu. "You ought to," replied Uzemu. Why should I?" inquired Seisetsu.
"The giver should be thankful."
giver should be thankfull

Muddy Road

Tanzan and Ekido were travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was falling.
Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, who was unable to cross the intersection.
"Come on, girl," said Tanzan at once.
Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself.
"We monks don't go near females," he told Tanzan, "especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?"
"I left the girl there," said Tanzan.
"Are you still carrying her?"

Mike Heseltine has been a professional artist for 30 years with paintings in collections worldwide. He currently lives in Scotland and is focused upon illustrating Zen Buddhist Koans, stories and proverbs. This has taken him into pure abstract work, in an attempt to create images that capture sensations and emotions that we feel when our minds our still and without thoughts.

This book was begun with the intention of producing one copy for his children as a guide to his spiritual interests, for them to follow if they wished to do so. Friends and family encouraged him to make the book more widely available. The contemplation of Koans and Zen Proverbs through abstract painting is a useful one, as it steers away from attempts to have analytical discussions or logical conclusions. Instead, it enters the world of non representational thought and echoes the Koans own paradoxical nature. The paintings have no specific meaning, no profound message or ability to provide spiritual answers. Instead they are just a personal response to the feelings and sensations experienced whilst having a still mind. Their subsequent value to the viewer may be in the way they capture a glimpse of having no thoughts. There is nothing to write about them, no description required, they are just what they are. If this is accepted, they can help the viewer enter a state of being totally present in the moment, without thoughts to distract one. Acceptance of what is, without the need for analytical thoughts, conflict or explanations, is a path towards deeper happiness.

If you wish to contact Mike Heseltine, please write an email address.... . Thank you.