A pretend answer to a koan

1001 Tales told by the Master Discourses

“Hearing Zen, reading Zen is not going to give you Zen. Zen is a quality that you have to attain to.”

Truc Lam Tay Thien Zen Monastery, Vietnam
Truc Lam Tay Thien Zen Monastery, Vietnam

Traditionally, Zen monasteries will only admit wandering Zen monks if they can show proof of having solved a koan.

It seems that a monk once knocked on a monastery gate. The monk who opened the gate did not say “Hello” or “Good morning”, but “Show me your original face, the face you had before your father and mother were born.”

This is a koan.

And the host is asking the guest to show some sign that he can solve a koan; otherwise he is not worthy of being allowed to stay in the monastery; then he will have to go away.

The monk, who wanted a room for the night, smiled, pulled a sandal off his foot and hit his questioner in the face with it. The other monk stepped back, bowed respectfully and bade the visitor welcome.

After dinner, host and guest started a conversation, and the host complimented his guest on his splendid answer.

“Do you yourself know the answer to the koan you gave me?” the guest asked.

“No,” answered the host, “but I knew that your answer was right. You did not hesitate for a moment. It came out quite spontaneously. It agreed exactly with everything I have heard or read about Zen.”

The guest did not say anything and sipped his tea.

Suddenly the host became suspicious.

There was something in the face of his guest which he did not like.

“You do know the answer, don’t you?” he asked.

The guest began to laugh and finally rolled over the mat with mirth.

“No, reverend brother,” he said, “but I too have read a lot and heard a lot about Zen.”

Hearing me, there are many things you will start imagining, many things you will start believing. Beware, because those things won’t help. Hearing Zen, reading Zen is not going to give you Zen. Zen is a quality that you have to attain to. It is a new vision of life and reality. It is a new penetration into the mystery of existence. It is not intellectual; it is existential. You have to throb with it, your heart has to beat with it, you have to breathe it in and out. It is not going to be just an intellectual understanding.

Osho, The First Principle: Talks on Zen, Ch 4 (excerpt)

Series compiled by Shanti
All excerpts of this series can be found in: 1001 Tales

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