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Big in Japan: What is the sound of one hand clapping?
Zen (?) is all about explaining the unexplainable...
In ancient times, Buddhist monks would enter deep meditation in an effort to analyze k?an (??), which are stories and parables that cannot be understood through mere intellectual reasoning.
Indeed, k?an generally contain philosophical problems that are inaccessible to rational understanding, such as the famous question," Two hands clap and there is a sound, but what is the sound of one hand clapping?"
The answer, of course, is that you must transcend all sounds in order to reach the soundless sound!
While we certainly don't have all of the answers, we do have a good number of k?an that are worth meditating upon. On that note, today's post is a collection of some of the most famous k?an in the Japanese tradition of Zen Buddhism.
A Zen master received an eager young student, and proceeded to pour him a cup of tea. When the cup was full, the Zen master kept pouring, which caused the student to shout out, "No more will go in!" To this, the Zen master replied: "You are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?"
The emperor calls his trusted Zen advisor to ask him this question: "Where does the enlightened man go when he dies?" To this, the Zen advisor simply responded: "I do not know, because I have not died yet."
A brash young man once boasted to a Zen priest: "The founder of our sect had such miraculous powers that he could hold a brush in his hand on one side of the river, and write on a piece of a paper held by his attendant on the other side." The priest responded lightly: "Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink."
A Zen teacher asked his students if they considered a big stone to be inside or outside their minds. One replied: "From the Buddhist viewpoint, everything is an objectification of mind, so I would say that the stone is inside my mind. The teacher amusingly responded: "Your head must feel very heavy if you are carrying around a stone like that in your mind."
A foolish young man, desiring to reach enlightenment, told a famous Zen scholar: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received." The scholar, who was smoking quietly at the time, proceeded to whack the young man across the head with a bamboo pipe. When the youth started to get angry, the scholar spoke softly: "If nothing exists, then where did your anger come from?"
Want to learn more? Sure you do!
Be sure to check Big in Japan all this month as we delve deeper into the subtle art of Zen (禅).
** All images courtesy of the WikiCommons Media Project **