Journal - The Koan
by James Devries

You wouldn't happen to know the name of the temple we went to on saturday morning in Tosu, would you? Or the name of the Roshi there. I made mention of it in my journal and I'd like to be a little bit more specific than " the Roshi at a Rinzai Zen temple in Tosu" .Otherwise my j ournal follows : The Koan Many people are familiar with the koan "what is the sound of one hand clapping?", but may not be aware of the usefulness of such a paradoxical question. For Zen Buddhism a koan may be used as an implement to help awaken a practitioners mind. Thich Nhat Hanh uses a comparison between awakening the mind with a koan and working the ground with a pick. "What is accomplished from working on the ground depends on the person doing the work and not just on the pick" (Nhat Hanh 1995:57) .He is clarifying the difference between finding the solution to a math problem and finding the solution to a koan. A math problem has an absolute answer which is provided in the problem itself. The answer to a koan lies within the practitioner. On the trip I had an opportunity to ask a couple Zen abbots about their favorite koans. The first was Harada Sekkei, the Roshi at Hoshinji. The following is his favorite koan: You are a farmer and you are leading a cow out of a barn. The cow makes it out of the building with exception to the very tip of its tail which gets caught. How do you get the cowout of the .. barn? ~~"",,~l) He followed the koan with the statement, "when you can answer ~t, you will be enlightened." The next person I asked was the Roshi at a Rinzai Zen Monastery in Tosu. His initial response was that he didn't like any koans. Then he continued by explaining that the greatest koan is our everyday life. The fact that a koan doesn't have to be presented in words is very important to realize. Anything can be an instrument to help awaken your mind.

James DeVries Nhat Hanh, Thich. 1995. Zen Keys. New York and London: Doubleday.