If you are familiar with the koans of Zen you will know at least these two. The first is "What is the sound of one hand clapping" and the other is called Joshu's Mu. The second is based on the story that when the Buddhist Master Joshu was asked whether a dog has Buddha Nature, he said "Mu" which usually means "No." Zen has a characteristic kind of dialogue in which spiritual truths are expressed in a kind of symbolical dialectic. Thinking about these two koans might get you into it.

So what is the sound of one hand clapping? It is that one do what is best unilaterally. If the other hand comes to meet you, that is wonderful, but if it does not, no matter, one still does one’s part. A community is like this. Each person does their best and there is then a surplus of goodwill sufficient to absorb setbacks. When one hand is clapping, the other is encouraged to join in. This is the perfect situation. Each person is completely absorbed in his or her faith and practice and so is a perfect example to everyone around them. People who come to visit then feel good about it, get caught up in the atmosphere and want to come again. Those who reside feel joy in each other’s company. Those who go away feel that they have something solid behind them. They feel able to go forth and be one hand clapping.

Usually when one goes to the temple at the appointed time everybody is there ready to join in the ceremony together. Even if one had been sluggish or reluctant to go when one arrives and joins in one feels good. Sometimes one goes to the hall at the appointed time and nobody else shows up. One thinks, that’s fine, they must all have good things that they need to do. One lights a candle and get on on one’s own. That is one hand clapping. Sometimes the others show up later. Sometimes they don’t. Sitting in the divine presence one feels happy either way - one way for the solitude and the other way for the company. Sometimes it is oneself who does not show up, sometimes for a good reason, sometimes not. In any case, one knows that one is still loved and whatever vicissitude of reason or emotion one is going through, one knows that there is here a fund of love and goodwill and all will be well. This is the sound of one hand clapping.

Why Did Joshu Say Wu/Mu? When one hand claps, it enters emptiness. When Joshu was asked if a dog had Buddha Nature he said “Wu” (Mu in Japanese) which means “No” or “Empty” or “Without”. To which the hearer may say, “But I thought it was Buddhist doctrine that all sentient beings have Buddha Nature.” This response, however, betrays an intention to cling to formulas. We should ask ourselves who or what is the dog? Just as we need to know who or what is the one hand that claps. When we have found the dog, we can find out if it is empty or not. Perhaps we will discover that true Buddhist faith and practice is a matter of emptying the dog again and again. Or perhaps we shall find that the dog was empty from the very beginning. Or perhaps the old dog just likes lying in the sun, in which case, we must ask: who or what is the true sun? And when the dog is lying in the sun, does it get full or does it stay empty? Is Buddha Nature something that comes and goes? When it is coming and going, what is it up to? Is one hand clapping the same as one dog barking? Is the old dog barking the same as Joshu saying, “Wu”.

Buddha Nature is not a personal asset, it is something that appears when one hand claps. When an old dog is empty he does not think about one hand clapping, but it claps all the same.


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Replies to This Discussion

Thanks Dharmavidya. A one handed round of applause for a nice teaching! A lot of the philosophy that I've studied seems to point towards abstract thinking, thinking about other-wordly things. This is apparently very effective for de-conditioning the mind, untangling us from the impossibly complicated web of causes and conditions which lock us into the Samsaric state. Plato said ''turn your mind to Salt'', Salt being the unknowable alchemical principle of change. If your mind is fixed on spiritual matters, you are much less likely to be snared by the lure of the pleasure delusion which perpetuates Dukkha. The psychological addiction to ''things'' is replaced by a preoccupation with non-things and it becomes much easier to see the dangers before succumbing to them. The koans seem to work on a similar level, by distracting the rational mind with irrational matters. It's good to re-set the Self in this way, re-orienting the spiritual compass towards wholesome and meaningful things is a big part of my re-conditioning process! Namo Amida Bu(   :



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