Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Kōan -accomplishing the purpose of writing in one sentence!

A kōan is part of Bhuddism. It is generally a statment that contains aspects that may not make sense logically, yet are understood with intuition. (Rephrased from this Wikipedia article.

For example:

"Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?"

Get it?

The purpose of kōans is to bring two people to the same plane of understanding; to allow their minds to come together by sharing the same thought. In the instant that you really understood the kōan above, you and I shared the same mental leap from logic to intuition.

I am so excited about kōans because they are, my friends, the purpose of writing condensed.

When you boil it down (shapes with pens stand for sounds which form keywords that unlock pictures in our brains), the whole purpose of communication is to get people to think the same thoughts.

Stephen King demonstrates this in his fantastic autobiography/instruction manual called On Writing (I would recommend this book to any aspiring writer). In one part of the book he asks the reader to envision a white rabbit.

Now we are all sharing the same thoughts. We are all thinking of a white rabbit. our rabbits may differ a little, but in general we are all imagining the same basic concept.

Then he asks the reader to imagine that this is a rabbit used in magic tricks, and it has the number 8 printed on its back.

We may all be envisioning different types and colors of 8's, but again, I repeat, we are all sharing the same basic concepts.

That's why I'm so enamoured of the kōan. What is the sound of one hand clapping?

We are all sharing the same headspace.

Further research into the history of kōans reveals that they are not supposed to be approached intellectually; they are a spiritual excercise undertaken in person, lessons from master to student, but we don't have to be too bothered by that. I recommend more research into the history of kōans, but unfortunately listed examples of them on the internet aren't as cool as that hand clapping one.

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands... now try it one-handed!


Jaden said...


I barely even read the post. Philosophy makes my head hurt. But Savannah's back!!!

- Jaden

p.s. where you been?

Jena Isle said...

For a teenager (based on your site's title) You have a lot of wisdom. I didn't even know what a koan is, thanks for posting. A good read,a well written post and very well expressed.

Can you envision a wide sunny beach? with fine grains of sand, and one solitary figure of a woman, dipping her hands in the incoming waves? Now we have the same picture in our minds - the same understanding.. he he he,,, did I get it right?

and yes, I would like to know the sound of one hand clapping.

Thanks for sharing.