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Another Sound Of One Hand Clapping
by Ivan Kovacs

(Dear Serge,
I very much enjoyed your essay on "One Hand Clapping" as I have always been fascinated by this particular koan. You are quite right in saying that each person solves the riddle in his own way, and that there is no single correct answer. I also puzzled about this koan, and was mentally exhausted by the time the solution came to me in a flash of inspiration. I hereby present my personal view of "The Sound of One Hand Clapping.")

For the past six months I have been doing nothing else except scrubbing floors and washing pots; eating raw radishes and rhubarbs; and sleeping on a hard stone floor with nothing in between but a thin straw mat. Finally the Abbott of the monastery, the illustrious Zen Master, Kuei-tsung, took me aside and whispered to me confidentially:

"My dear Neophyte, I know how hard you have worked towards liberation from the flesh and the attainment of enlightenment." He smiled at me benevolently and then continued, "The time has now come to speed up your development, which I wish to bring about by giving you a koan for contemplation. Exerting your finite mind in the effort of its solution will bring you, oh Seeker of Truth, closer to the great realisation."

I looked at him expectantly, and with great dignity he finally asked:

"Oh Neophyte, please contemplate the koan ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?'"

Hearing this I must have frowned, because the master asked:

"Is there a problem?"

"No, no problem at all," I replied, and emboldened by a sudden insight I continued: "Illustrious Master, I can answer your riddle right away, and if you permit me, I can even demonstrate . . ."

The Master looked astonished, but then said:

"This is indeed surprising! Allow yourself to go ahead."

Hardly had these words left his lips when I smacked him on the cheek with lightning speed, whereupon he farted loudly, and his clear blue halo flashed with red. He was still rubbing his cheek as I said:

"With all due respect, illustrious Master, this was a demonstration of ‘the sound of one hand clapping'".

I bowed deep, and left the monastery with the happy thought that the right type of koan can, indeed, give rise to instantaneous enlightenment, provided that one's realisation is acted upon unequivocally, vigorously, and succinctly.

palm isle