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.
The purpose of koans 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 as it goes around trying to resolve the koan 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 koan makes sense and the teaching point is realized.
Osho says – A koan is a puzzle. But it is not like an ordinary puzzle. It is a puzzle that cannot be solved. Ordinary puzzles can be solved, they are meant to be solved. They may be difficult, but they are not impossible. A koan is an impossible puzzle. You cannot solve it; there is no way to solve it. For example, this is a Zen koan: what is the sound of one hand clapping? If you use two hands a sound is created, but if you use only one hand, what sound is created? This is a koan. Impossible to solve. Whatsoever you say will be wrong. Unless you remain totally silent, everything will be wrong. This koan is to create a total silence in you, where no answer is coming. If answers are coming they will go on being the wrong answers, because every answer is wrong – no sound can be created by one hand.
A few other Koans are:
– Does a dog have the Buddha nature?
– What is your original face before you were born?
On the subject of Zen, an amusing Zen story –
1) Noticing that his father was growing old, the son of a burglar asked his father to teach him the trade so that he could carry on the family business after his father had retired.
The father agreed, and that night they broke into a house together. Opening a large chest the father told his son to go in and pick out the clothing. As soon as the boy was inside, the father locked the chest and then made a lot of noise so that the whole house was aroused. Then he slipped quietly away.
Locked inside the chest the boy was angry, terrified, and puzzled as to how he was going to get out. Then an idea flashed to him- he made a noise like a cat. The family told a maid to take a candle and examine the chest. When the lid was unlocked the boy jumped out, blew the candle, pushed his way past the astonished maid, and ran out. The people ran after him. Noticing a well by the side of the road the boy threw in a large stone, then hid in the darkness. The pursuers gathered around the well trying to see the burglar drowning himself.
When the boy got home he was very angry at his father and he tried to tell him the story; but the father said: ‘Don’t bother to tell me the details, you are here- you have learned the art.’
Achyut Telang is a PhD Research Scholar at IBS Hyderabad. He completed his MBA in Marketing from Mumbai in 2009. He has a lot of hobbies and a passion for writing. Some of his hobbies are drawing portraits, writing poems and blog articles, playing the piano, reading books, sports, games etc.
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