The Master Does Nothing

Photo by lanchongzi
Photo by lanchongzi

The Master doesn’t try to be powerful,
thus he is truly powerful.
The ordinary man keeps reaching for power,
thus he never has enough.

The Master does nothing,
yet he leaves nothing undone.
The ordinary man is always doing things,
yet many more are left to be done.
The kind man does something,
yet something remains undone.
The just man does something,
and leaves many things to be done.
The moral man does something,
and when no one responds he rolls up his sleeves and uses force.

When the Tao is lost, there is goodness.
When goodness is lost, there is morality.
When morality is lost, there is ritual.
Ritual is the husk of true faith, the beginning of chaos.

Therefore the Master concerns himself
with the depths and not the surface,
with the fruit and not the flower.

He has no will of his own.
He dwells in reality,
and lets all illusions go.

– Tao Te Ching, verse 38, by Lao Tsu (Translated by Stephen Mitchell)

The Sound of One Hand Clapping and other koans

Note: the following are examples of zen koans – taken from the Japanese “ko” (public) and “an” (proposition). Koans may take the form of a question, a verse or a short anecdote or teaching. It is designed to bring the student towards a direct realization of the ultimate reality. Koans are often very puzzling and incomprehensible and it may take months or even years for one to fully understand one.

The great Japanese master, Hakuin, wrote: “If you take up one koan and investigate it unceasingly, your mind will die and your will will be destroyed. It is as though a vast, empty abyss lay before you, with no place to set your hands and feet. You face death and your bosom feels as though it were on fire. Then suddenly, you are one with the koan, and body and mind are cast off. This is known as seeing into one’s nature.”

Now, on to the koans:

  1. What is the sound of one hand clapping?
  2. A monk asked master Haryo, “What is the way?” Haryo replied, “An open-eyed man falling into a well.”
  3. When the many are reduced to one, to what is the one reduced?
  4. The roof was leaking so the master asked two disciples to bring something to catch the water. The first one brought a pail while the second brought a basket. The first was severely reprimanded, the second was highly praised.
  5. What is your original face, before your father and mother were born?
  6. One day, master Chao Chou stumbled and fell. He cried out, “Help me, help me!” A monk came and lay down beside him. Chao Chou got up and walked away.
  7. When you can do nothing, what can you do?
  8. (a modern koan) Where is the hole when the entire donut is eaten?
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