August 30, 2012
At the neighborhood coffee house, W. and I were chatting over our cups of coffee. About Eckhart Tolle, about seeing without thinking, about being a dot of paint that somehow managed to escape the canvas that all the other dots of paint take to be the whole world.
He looked at me quizzically. "Have you ever heard the Zen koan, 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?'"
"Do you know what a koan is?" he asked. I shook my head, No. "Koans are these riddles that they use in Zen Buddhism to challenge students. They usually sound like nonsense. But the nonsense somehow leads the student to a state of enlightenment. Then, suddenly, the student understands the riddle."
"OK," I answered. "So you have one that you're going to tell me?"
"Yeah. It goes like this: 'What is the sound of one hand clapping?'"
"I give up. What IS the sound of one hand clapping?" I said, waving my hand through the air.
"That's not bad," said W. "It looks like you are clapping to an imaginary hand. Not bad at all." After a pause, in which he reflected on what he THOUGHT I was doing, he said, "OK. Here is how I think of it."
He reached out with his left hand and grabbed my right wrist. "Can I borrow this?"
I allowed him to lift up my hand by the wrist. He held it about twelve inches above the table.
"THIS is the sound of one hand clapping!" With that, he slapped his right palm against my right palm. It made a strong conventional clapping sound.
Next, he leaned toward me and caught my gaze in his. He held the stare. Lowering his voice he said, conspiratorially, "And you know what?" I waited. Softly, he said, "It's the SAME hand!"
He let go of my hand. It remained in the same place above the table where he placed it for the clap. He put his hand near mine and slowly looked back and forth from one to the other.
I was momentarily stunned. Did I clap my hand against his? Or did HE clap my hand against his. For an instant, I couldn't be sure whether that hand--under his control--was his hand or my hand. I, too, looked from one hand to the other, and nodded. At a certain level of understanding, these were not two hands. They were both manifestations of a single HAND.
I reached over with my left hand and grabbed his right wrist as he had done with mine. Then I slapped my right palm against his right palm, making the clapping noise.
"That is the sound of one hand clapping," I agreed. "It's the 'God-HAND' reaching out into two separate manifestations and clapping itself."
In a moment of contentment, W. laughed softly. I laughed softly, too. W. and I laughed softly. We laughed softly. I and we laughed softly. I/we laughed softly.
Finally, one of us--and it doesn't really matter who that was--said:
"Every single one of us is a God-HAND clapping other God-HANDS."