Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Zen Master said, "For forty years I sold water by the river."

The other day a nice lady logged onto a Buddhist Webb site I attend and asked several questions about Buddhism. Her questions were really easy to answer and several people did answer them. Her response was rather startling as she responded she was looking for a community of seekers not answers, and left the forum in a huff.
Lets talk about questions and answers.
Zen, of all forms of Buddhism is famous for its questions, and infamous for its answers. The Koan is perhaps the ultimate example of this issue. As far as I know Zen and Chan are the only schools that use this teaching tool. A koan is an unanswerable question for which your asked to provide an answer.
In the west we are not strangers to the insoluble question. In fact most of the major Philosophical issues debated for century's in the west are issues of debate because they are more or less insoluble.
Insoluble questions are usually of two kinds. The first being the type such as "how much dose Zen weigh?" In the west we would call these nonsense questions, simply a meaningless series of word strung into a sentence with a question mark tacked onto the end of the sentence. The second is usually a question that could be answered if we had the power or the data required to answer it. If I ask "What is the nature of gravity?" I know once I define my terms the answer will be available once I have all the empirical data.
The Koan is of the first kind of insoluble question. A western logician might say " Well such a question has no meaning, it is unanswerable by its very nature and thus is no question at all!"
I am no Zen master but I think one's response to that would be "exactly!"
My master sells water by the river and has done well at it for 40 years. But it dose not taste like the water from the river, it has added value. People wander this world suffering and seeking and never once stopping to taste the water. They seek it , and never see what is right in front of them.
Once we truly learn that our own questions are no questions at all, we can begin to drink.
Bottoms up !


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