#424 So…Koan

I heard today “without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born?” Mighty weird! This is an example of a koan. A kind of zen Buddhist brain teaser. Koans are riddles, stories or questions used to provide deeper meditation and contemplation. They are seemingly mind boggling but at the same time mind opening. Showing me how life is full of paradoxes. Although we search incessantly for solutions, we don’t always need to track down the answer. We can sit with the question rather than searching for the answer.

This is exactly what I am doing right now. I feel fuzzy and full of cotton wool. And so I am sitting with the question “what am I feeling?”

The most famous koan in the zen Buddhist tradition is the following: “two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Remember that the point is not to ascertain a clear logical answer. So it is not about looking for the words to express the sound of one hand clapping. It is to use the question as a jumping off point. For opening my mind and embracing intuition rather than reason. For looking at problems from unexpected angles.

One hand clapping

Some people have reduced koans to being silly and nonsensical but they can be also considered as illuminating as they provide a different way of thinking about thinking itself.

I sit with it, contemplate it, practice non judgement and approach the world with a beginner’s mind.

It forces me inwards to contemplate self discovery as much as it is about finding a discovery, resolution or explanation. Humans are logical creatures who love to take action and solve problems. We want to know what things mean as quickly as possible so we force ourselves to be analytical and rational even if the way forward is to have a different approach. But not everything can be rationalised and answered.

Not everything NEEDS to be understood and comprehended like that. NOT EVERYTHING MAKES SENSE. David Byrne eat your heart out (which is a horrible expression in itself).

The lesson here is that there are not always answers to the catch 22s in your life. Koans encourage us to remember that. Instead of forcing myself to find an answer, it is sometimes more beneficial to just sit with the question.

So now what is the sound of one hand clapping?

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