NOTE: These two Zen Koans have won big favours among Westerners who come to accept Buddhism as part of their spirituality. Together with the riddle "if you see the Buddha, kill him", they are frequently used by Western followers to promote Buddhism as an idealistic, rather than idol worshiping, religion.
STORY I: Dismantling the Buddha Statue
On a very cold chilly winter night, a poor unemployed man dropped into a Buddhist Temple and kneeled in front of the Main Buddha Statue. After saying a prayer to the Buddha, he bursted into tears and started to cry. The Monk-in-charge of the Temple, Dharma Master Wing Xi (literally, Glorious West) approached him and asked what happened.
"Your venerable," replied the poor man, "My wife and kids have been hungry for several days. I have tried my best to support them, but I could not find work anywhere in town. Now because of the weather, I am suffering from severe arthritis and other diseases. I think my family would not last any longer. That's why I come here to pray to the Buddha and ask him to alleviate my sufferings."
Master Wing Xi pondered, "as Buddhist monks, we do not have any money. How can we help him in such an emergency?" As he looked at the gold-plated Buddha Statue in the main hall, suddenly, he had an idea. He ordered his students to remove the arm from the Buddha Statue, peel the gold off the arm and gave it to the unemployed poor man. "Sell it to a gold smith and use the proceeds for your emergency," he told the poor man.
All the other monks were shocked at his decision and protested, "How can you break the arm of the Buddha Statue and give it away?"
Master Wing Xi said calmly, "You guys do not understand the Dharma. I do this to honour the Buddha himself."
The other monks were confused and angry, "You are breaking the Buddha Statue to pieces. How can this be considered to be an honour to Buddhism and to the Buddha himself."
Master Wing Xi replied, "I do honour our religion and the founder, the Buddha himself. Even though I am going to Hell after this, I am still going to break up the Statue and give it away."
Under the order from the Master, the monks had no choice but started to chip off the gold plate from the statue, but they surely did not like doing it. They started to murmur, "We are breaking up the Buddha Statue to pieces and give it away - and our Master says this is an honour to Buddhism? What an anti-religion idiot."
Upon hearing this, Master Wing Xi could not stand it any long. He shouted out loudly, "Don't you guys study the Buddhist Scriptures? Before he became a Buddha, in his previous lives, Prince Siddhartha gave himself up to feed a hungry tiger, cut his own flesh to feed an hungry eagle, donated his own eye to cure someone's eyesight, etc. He donated everything, including his own body parts for the well being of other sentient beings. Do you understand his teachings at all?! "
STORY II - Using the Buddha Statue as heating fuel
During the Teng Dynasty, Dharma Master Dan Xia (literally, Red Twilight) used to be a candidate for the civil service examination. But he got a "calling" and later became a Buddhist Monk instead.
On a cold winter night, a big snow storm hit the city and the temple where Dan Xia served as a Monk got snowed in. Cut off from outside traffic, the coal delivery man could not get to the Zen Monastery. Soon it ran out of heating fuel after a few days and everybody was shivering in the cold. The monks could not even cook their meals.
Dan Xia began to remove the wooden Buddha Statues from the display and put them into the fireplace.
"What are you doing?" the monks were shocked to see that the holy Buddha Statues were being burnt inside the fire place. "You are burning our holy religious artifacts! You are insulting the Buddha!"
"Are these statues alive and do they have any Buddha nature?" asked Master Dan Xia.
"Of course not," replied the monks. "They are made of wood. They cannot have Buddha Nature."
"OK. Then they are just pieces of firewood and therefore can be used as heating fuel," said Master Dan Xia. "Can you pass me another piece of firewood please? I need some warmth."
The next day, the snow storm had gone and Dan Xia went into town and brought back some replacement Buddha Statues. After putting them on the displays, he began to kneel down and burn incense sticks to them.
"Are you worshiping firewood?" ask the monks who are confused for what he was doing.
"No. I am treating these statues as holy artifacts and am honouring the Buddha." replied Dan Xia.