Thursday, May 28, 2009


Recently I came across a few questions and while travelling too, few very strange looking questions arose in my mind and it reminded me of a Koan.

For those of you who don't know, A Koan is a tradition in Zen. It is basically kind of a question of a very strange kind that may seem weird or absolutely meaningless and is given to a disciple to think on it. It might even be a question that has no answer but the student has to think over it. It is also to confound the habit of discursive thought or shock the mind into awareness.

Thus, the Koan has a specific purpose. A student or disciple is given a Koan to ponder over, and he goes into his room and sits alone- only he and the question exist and that is the only thing he does. Till the time he finds a solution, he just stays with the question, and does nothing else. And there have been instances where they have done this for days, months and even many years! For years, day in and day out, they only think over the question. And many have become enlightened just by this. This is actually just a method, a device, the question itself is not important and nor is the answer. It is the effort, sincere effort put in by the disciple that does the trick. For these questions, you cannot use your normal ways of thinking and logic and anything else. You have to give yourself to this question and become the question itself.............

The purpose of kōans is for a Zen practitioner to become aware of the difference between themselves, their mind, and their beliefs that influence how they see the world as an aspect of realizing their True nature. Paradoxes tend to arouse the mind for an extended duration as the mind goes around and around trying to resolve the paradox or kōan to an "answer". This is a lot like a dog chasing its tail and, while it's chasing, the mind makes itself more visible. Once a Zen practitioner becomes aware of their mind as an independent form, the kōan makes sense and the teaching point is realized.

And out of the hundreds of Koans that exist, perhaps none is as popular as this one- "What is the sound of the one-hand clapping?" You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together, so what is the sound of a one hand clap!


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