The Sound of One hand clapping
The paradoxical mystery of koans and their teaching purpose
Translated from Chinese, koan literally means “ public statement”.
Koans were created in the XI century by a Zen Master called Dahui to assess student progress toward Awakening.
A Koan is a short question, statement, story, riddle, image, or dialogue.
Their content is paradoxical, illogical, incomprehensible, and often sort of a meaningless oxymoron, making koans sound stupid, contradictory, making no sense at all as far our logic is concerned,
They are around 2,000 koans available.
During a one-on-one interview, a Koan is given by the teacher to the student.
During the following interviews, the student gives her/his answer.
If the answer is appropriate, the student will get another koan if judged needed by the teacher.
The student is told to move on if the answer does not please the teacher.
The teacher never gives the proper answer.
Finally, each koan may have different answers, and students cannot talk about their Koan to anyone. WEIRD!
Purpose of a Koan:
Koans are used as a meditation discipline helping students to control overthinking and to use
their intuition instead. What does that mean?
The effort to “solve” a koan is intended to exhaust all analytic, deductive, and logical intellect.
It is designed to train the mind so that an appropriate response is possible only from intuition.
Each exercise constitutes both a Zen experience and a test of the student’s ability
to “think thoughtlessly” that is intuitive rather than using the conventional analytic, and logical thinking composed of dualistic beliefs, experience, and acquired knowledge.
Hakuin, an 18th-century Japanese Zen master, challenges his students by saying,
“You know the sound of two hands clapping; tell me, what is the sound of one?”
Dualistic thinking assumes there are always only two contrasting, mutually exclusive choices or realities such as life/death, cold/warm, true/false, smart/stupid, rich/poor, etc.
The opposite of dualistic thinking is not non-dualistic thinking because a non-dualistic thinking
defines, by itself, duality.
So, the opposite of dualistic thinking is NOT thinking.
Thoughts are tyrannical and continuous, and not thinking is an alien process for most of us, far harder to practice than thinking because it is a totally new experience based on pure awareness-based intuition.
It takes serious commitment such as Koan-based practice to free ourselves from our analytic logistic overthinking.
How do you practice your koan?
1-First of all, you need to let the koan penetrate you, and be acquainted with it.
You need to drop off, for a short period of time,
your regular way of analytic, and logical thinking. Repeat the drill as many times as possible.
That is a lot to ask of a person who never did it.
2-Don't try too fast and too hard to solve your koan.
The mistake is to start thinking about a zillion of so-called solutions. This is not the approach.
3-Just repeat mentally the words of the koan to yourself once in a while
“ What is the sound of one hand clapping”
4-Eventually, the koan and you are one, and the solution is around the corner because
awareness-based intuition is closer.
Zen koan is given to short your analytic logical brain circuitry. You will be turned down each time you approach your koan in a cognitive way. A Koan is a tool designed to stimulate our genuine-based intuition rather than our acquired mental process. in order to solve it.
You have the solution inside you because you are already “Awakened”. Dig for it. Thank you