Roger Harty: The Sound Of One Hand Clapping

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THE sound of one hand clapping is a classic example of a koan. This in turn leads us to another question.

What in God’s name is a koan?

A koan is a ‘device’ that was used in Zen Buddhism in order to challenge the human intellect.

It was a form of a question riddle without an obvious answer. In fact the more the thinking mind got involved the deeper one got into the quagmire of thought and evaded the answer.

There was no logical solution, but that did not mean that there was no solution.

The best way to come to the solution is in fact to empty our minds and allow the solution to come to us.

Was that not what happened to Archimedes when he came up with several important inventions and mathematical discoveries?

He uttered the great expression ‘Eureka’ a Greek word meaning ‘I’ve found it’ when the answers came to him. His body was in a state where his mind was not particularly looking for the answers, it was then that the answers came to him.

I’m sure Sir Isaac Newton was in a similar state when he was sitting under an apple tree and an apple fell which in turn caused him to come to observe the importance of gravity in our lives.

The key word here is the word ‘observe’. When we are in a state of ‘observing’ we are not engaged in thinking or doing, we are simply observing. Over time the mind comes to rest and the answers arise from within. (picture a kingfisher watching the pattern of a fish before he strikes!!).

This is what Jesus was trying to tell us when He said ‘Be Still and know that I Am God’.

He was simply advising us to ‘Be Present’ and that in that state the answers (Through the guidance of God) would come from within.

The quality of the answers will be of an ‘enlightened’ nature and will give us insights that the logical mind could never deliver. A great Zen story also illustrates this.

A student went to his Zen master to ask him about some of the deeper aspects of life e.g. koans etc.

The Zen master offered him a cup of tea but kept pouring as his cup overflowed. The student looked at him and asked him to stop pouring.

The Zen master explained that the students mind was just like the cup. If his mind was so much overflowing with pre conceived thoughts, opinions and conditioning since early childhood, then the Zen master was unable to give him any more wisdom, just like the cup could not receive more tea.

It was only when the student was prepared to empty his ‘cup’ i.e. ‘his mind’ would he be in a position to receive more ‘tea’ i.e. ‘enlightened answers’

• Next week I am going to write about — Less Is More.

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