“Therefore the Zen disciple is given something which cannot be killed by definition and analysis; he must try to grasp it alive, and the moment he realizes, finally and absolutely, that it cannot be grasped, he lets go, understanding in a flash what a fool he has been to deny the right of all things to live, by trying to grasp them for his own.”-Alan Watts
So many practices are designed to remind us how to live. To show us that no matter how hard we try - life cannot be put into a box. Was it always like this? Or somewhere along the line, did we become divorced from our true nature. When did we forget what so many traditions deem to be of utmost importance? The poet Rilke writes that our fascination with language is one way that things are veiled.
“Things aren’t all so tangible and sayable as people would usually have us believe; most experiences are unsayable, they happen in a space that no word has ever entered.”
Consider the moment you’re inhibiting right now. No matter how many words are written describing every aspect of this situation - they will never capture the subjective quality of being who you are, where you are, right here and now.
In the first quote, Alan Watts is describing the Zen Buddhist practice of Koan meditation. Its purpose is to help you realize that bare reality cannot be placed in any container - whether physical, conceptual, or emotional. To aid you in realizing this, the Zen master gives you an impossible riddle called a Koan. You try all of your best logical, discursive and conceptual tricks - but this type of riddle doesn’t budge. Insight into it is not attained through reasoning or understanding, but through a flash of intuitive seeing. Here are some examples:
What is the sound of one hand clapping? What was your original face before you were born? A cow walks through a doorway, its head, torso and feet make it through, but the tail gets stuck, why? What is the colour of the wind?
Rupert Spira writes that in the Kashmir Shaivite tradition, they say:
“the greatest secret [is] more hidden than the most concealed, and yet more evident than the most evident of things”
Similarly, the answer to a Koan is like this. Living in a space that words cannot enter, yet more apparent than the air you breathe. It’s not esoteric, you already get it. Think of the most beautiful sunset you’ve ever seen. Not only could you never adequately describe it to me, but even your memory of it falls short of the experience.
Thus, the goal of the Koan is simple:
Remind you that every single moment is as beautiful as that sunset.
It is as it is.