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LAUGHING, Continued: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6
What role does absurdity play?

“While hunting in Africa, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How an elephant got into my pajamas I'll never know.”

well-known koans is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” While a penetration of its meaning is a serious affair, reading about the teaching techniques of Zen masters often glides past something that is manifest and important: This koan, like most, is funny.
Be Here When? animation
In a wonderful chapter [No. 18: “Satori, The Koan, and Monastic Polishing”] of her online book, "Seventh World of Chan Buddhism" at the ZBOHY website, Chuan Yuan Shakya tells the story of a monk named Doe Ming who is given the one-hand-clapping koan. With much pride he focuses on the koan, but the increasingly clever answers he conceives horrify his beloved master, who eventually strikes him. Weeks pass. Stressed and humiliated, Doe Ming takes refuge in menial tasks. He is forgotten and gains contentment. Then, a sound triggers Enlightenment. He goes to his master and says "Eat shit and die, you old fake!" He bursts out laughing. The master and the head monk join in merrily.

While the supposed “point” of the one-hand-clapping koan is not that it is funny, the absurd quality of opening the puzzlebox of this koan is intrinsic to its message.

Douglas notes, “A few years ago a possible answer came to me for the response to ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Answer: Half the sound of two hands clapping...Is that a koan?” Douglas adds that given the anecdote mentioned above, a Zen master would probably have struck him for such an answer.

Jeff says that he has spent more time studying the teachings of the T’ang Dynasty Ch’an mastesr than any other group. “And those ol' rascals have definitely infected me with their appreciation of the spontaneous, the absurd, and the silly as tools for breaking down the fossilized conceptual barriers that stand between us and innate enlightenment. ... The Ch'an masters are just a bunch of impossibly ridiculous buffoons.”

He goes on to say:

“Imagine how crazy it is to meditate facing a wall for nine years until your legs fall off, and then to refuse your disciple until he cuts off his arm and hands it to you! If that's not farce, I don't know what is. And then there's old Bird Nest up in his tree, telling the high official that a three-year-old can understand the transcendent Dharma, but even a seventy-year-old can't seem to practice it. The shock effect, the ultimate tool for satori in the Ch'an/Zen sect, is extremely close to the startle one receives at the punchline of a joke. Both offer the listener unexpected alternate possible ways of perceiving the world and his/her relation to it. Dharma could be defined as that which shakes up our old views and offers realignment with a healthier way of seeing things--the same definition also applies to humor, of course.”

In very simple terms, says Dinty: “What the Buddha said is never to take anything too seriously. Even Zen disciplines are mocked by many of the masters. So, yes, I think an appreciation of the absurd can be a good thing.”

PAGE 4: The cookie of our childhood.

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