Monday, November 06, 2017



A paradox is a situation that may be true but seems impossible or difficult to understand because it contains contradictory terms.

To say that another way, a paradox is a self-contradictory proposition that may be well-founded or true. On the other hand it may not be true.

Talk about inconsistency, consider the words of Zen Master Soen Nakakagawa who said, “Plus and minus are one, a world of absolute contradiction.”

        Some scholarly individuals—not Zen practitioners, by the way—spend a great deal of time and effort analyzing and categorizing Zen statements, stories, and especially koans, shoehorning them into systems of symbolic logic using emblems to denote propositions, terms, and relations.

An example of symbolic logic might be, if A is the same as B, then AB is the same as BA.

        Analyzing and categorizing are fine pastimes if you want to prove something or want to establish a belief. And they may work with computer science.

        However, in Zen nothing needs to be verified or supposed.

        In Zen a dialogue or an exchange or a statement is often a source of illogical puzzlement. But such exchanges are intended to do away with logic and encourage awareness.

        As an example:  

        My finger can point to the moon, but my finger is not the moon. You don’t have to become my finger, nor do you have to worship my finger. You have to forget my finger, and look at where it is pointing.”

        Following are a few lines of non-Zen borrowed from a well-intentioned academician who is speaking of paradox in Zen.

“With this we are baffled because apparently bona fide language and discourse are freely used to create a state of mental comprehension and personal transformation which transcend both language and reason.

        For such reasons Zen practice must mislead and mystify those same learned individuals who emphasize such virtues as conceptual clarity, logical consistency, and semantic meaningfulness.”

End of academic discourse. If anyone can say that in plain English, let me know.

Zen language and Zen experience possess a certain ability to trigger insights in a human being. Therefore they can’t be dismissed as nonsense or irrelevant. They have real value.

But the Zen experience continues to puzzle philosophers in general and theorists of religion in particular.

What follows are a few typical Zen statements that might make perfect sense to a Zen person, but might baffle a philosopher or a theologian.

--Show me your original face before you were born.

--What is the clap of one hand?

--Don't call this a stone, but tell me what it is.

--I am him and yet he is not me.

        --Mountains are not mountain, and water is not water.

        --Not one, not two.

        To quote D.T. Suzuki, “There are in Zen no sacred books or dogmatic tenets, nor are there any symbolic formulae through which an access might be gained into the signification of Zen. If I am asked, then, what Zen teaches, I would answer, Zen teaches nothing. Whatever teachings there are in Zen, they come out of one's own mind. We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way.”

        End quote.

When a student of Zen named Yamaoka Tesshu called on Master Dokuon of Shokoku the novice said,

 “The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received.”

Dokuon said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the novice quite angry.

“If nothing exists,” said Dokuon, “where did your anger come from?”

A student went to his teacher and said, “My meditation is horrible! I feel distracted, or my legs ache, or I’m constantly falling asleep. It’s terrible!”

“It will pass,” the teacher said.

A week later, the student came back to his teacher. “My meditation is wonderful! I feel so aware, so peaceful, so alive!

“It will pass,” the teacher replied.

        To wind up this talk:

n  When you can do nothing, what can you do?

n  What is the color of wind?

n  I have lived with several Zen masters—all of them cats.


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