Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Well, do you?

... Do You Know The "Official" Answer to the Question, "What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?"


  1. Bart Simpson answered that 3000-year-old koan perfectly well. See here at the blog called frågan är svaret:

    Hur låter det när man klappar med en hand?.

    Scroll down, not too far at all, for the English version and the picture of him doing it.

  2. Which happens to be the precise answer I've been offering for years (but I'm not sure everyone is as gifted as Bart and I in this respect).

  3. The lapsed Zen acolyte who answered the question got it wrong, unfortunately. The correct answer is nothing in particular, and any one action that one Zen student might use doesn't mean it's the correct answer. Zen is about the state of being you are in when you answer the question; that's what the teacher is really looking for. A spontaneous response from the true self—not at all a set form. (One suspects the lapsed Zen acolyte cited became lapsed because he/she simply didn't get it.) I find it a typically Western-intellectual misunderstanding to assume koans have correct answers. They don't. It's HOW you do it. There are tons of Zen stories about this very issue, and that explode the myth of a correct answer even existing.

    Dogen once asked a disciple: "What is the Buddha-nature?" The disciple responded by taking off one of his sandals and putting it on his head. Dogen said, "That is correct." Dogen then asked another disciple, "What is the Buddha-nature?" The second disciple placed his sandal on his head, as the first disciple had done. Dogen said, "That is incorrect."

  4. I remember a story about an American who entered a Zen monastery in Japan. The koan he was asked to ponder was "Who were you before your mother and father conceived you." At each encounter with the master the question would be put to him. But his answers never met muster. Finally, in desperation, he sat before the master one day and when asked the question, said nothing; he simply opened his hands and let a frog jump out. The master's response? "Too intellectual."
    One encounters this need for an explanation in poetry, also, when people want to know what the poem means. It means, of course, precisely what it says, in precisely the way it says it. No more, no less.