The Lighter Side
The Zen Koan
By Christopher Caile
Quite a number of students in our karate organization have also studied
Zen. A good friend of mine and a very senior instructor in New Zealand
is quite serious about his study. Over many years he has visited a
local Zen monastery regularly.
As part of this study in addition to his normal meditation, the Zen
Master (Roshi) would give his students a Koan to contemplate. Koans
are short, perplexing, nonsensical statements on which students meditate
and try to decipher. They are not something understood by the logical
mind or reason. Instead they require a leap to another level of comprehension,
the realm of insight and intuition. Perhaps the best known example
of a Koan is the statement: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”
The goal of Koan study is to force students to break through to enlightened
vision. Overall there are hundreds of Koans that are in standard use.
After much contemplation, each student is challenged to demonstrate
his own solution to the Koan to his master in a private one-on-one
session. If solved, often a new Koan is given to the student for contemplation.
My friend in New Zealand told me that he had been contemplating a
particular Koan for months. It was incomprehensive. It didn’t
make sense and trying to come to some answer drove him crazy. What
answer to the Koan would he give his Roshi? He had no idea. So, he
redoubled his contemplation.
Finally it was time to meet with his teacher – to go to the
monastery and enter into his private interview. These short sessions
can be very intense, intimate and hugely difficult, for the student’s
level of comprehension, and the progress of his or her study, is revealed
by the response.
The student was with his teacher, face to face. The Roshi asked the
inevitable question about the meaning of the Koan. The student struggled.
He wasn’t coherent. He desperately tried to say something, but
the Roshi cut in and said, “Don’t tell me, show me!”
From somewhere deep inside, the student responded. He let out a huge
kiah (shout) while he executed a fast punch which stopped only a fraction
of an inch from the nose of the Roshi. The Roshi didn’t even
blink or flinch. He just sat there looking at the punch. Then after
a few seconds the Roshi’s only response was: “Right answer,
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About the Author:
Christopher Caile is the founder and Editor of FightingArts.com.