21. The Sound of One Hand.  Zen Koans Index |

Once upon a time, in the tranquil Kennin temple, resided a master known as Mokurai, whose presence was as silent as thunder. Under his guidance, a young protege named Toyo, a mere twelve years old, aspired to partake in the sacred practice of sanzen. Each day, Toyo observed the elder disciples visiting Mokurai's chamber, seeking personal guidance and receiving koans to quell their wandering minds.
Filled with a burning desire, Toyo yearned to experience sanzen as well.
"Be patient, my child," Mokurai advised. "You are still too young."
However, the persistent youngster insisted, eventually convincing his teacher to grant his request.
In the evening, as the sun began its descent, little Toyo arrived at the entrance of Mokurai's sanzen room. Striking the gong to announce his presence, he bowed respectfully three times outside the door and settled in silence before the master.
Mokurai's deep voice resonated in the air. "You can hear the clapping of two hands coming together," he stated. "Now, reveal to me the sound of one hand."
Toyo bowed once more, his mind brimming with anticipation, and returned to his room to contemplate this enigma. From his window, the enchanting melodies of geishas reached his ears. "Eureka! I have discovered the answer!" he exclaimed.
The following evening, when his teacher requested him to demonstrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to reproduce the melodies of the geishas.
"No, no," Mokurai interjected. "That will not suffice. It is not the sound of one hand. You have missed the mark."
Thinking that external music might prove to be a hindrance, Toyo relocated to a serene abode. He meditated once more, deeply pondering the nature of the sound of one hand. Suddenly, he heard the rhythmic dripping of water. "I have found it!" Toyo imagined.
When he appeared before his teacher again, Toyo mimicked the sound of dripping water.
"What is that?" inquired Mokurai. "Indeed, it resembles the sound of dripping water, but it is not the sound of one hand. Try again."
In vain, Toyo meditated, straining to perceive the sound of one hand. He listened attentively to the whispering wind, yet that too was rejected.
He caught the cry of an owl, but it did not fulfill the requirement.
The buzzing of locusts did not hold the answer either.
Numerous times Toyo visited Mokurai, presenting various sounds, yet all were incorrect. For nearly a year, he dedicated himself to unraveling the mystery of the sound of one hand.
Finally, after relentless introspection, Toyo delved into a state of true meditation, surpassing the realm of audible sounds. "I could not gather any more sounds," he recounted later, "so I transcended into the realm of the soundless sound."
Toyo had achieved enlightenment, comprehending the sound of one hand.
Here is a passage from Hinduism about soundless sound.  Hinduism's Soundless Sound and the Sound of one hand
 Sri Chinmoy: When two things are struck together they produce a sound. When I strike my hands together I produce a physical sound. Sound is normally the result of some impact. When we want to produce any sound, two things must be brought together in some way. AUM is called the soundless sound because we do not strike any object with any other object in order to produce it. Because it is unstruck, it is known as the soundless sound. In Sanskrit, this phenomenon is called Anahata, which means literally 'unstruck'. We can hear the sound in the inmost recesses of our heart, but we ourselves do not do anything to create it; it is created spontaneously. We only receive AUM or hear it. On the physical plane AUM is a physical sound like any other sound. But permeating the physical sound is a higher divine vibration. This spiritual vibration comes from its connection with the inner reality of the universal AUM, which is the life-breath of the whole creation. We call AUM the soundless sound although with our ordinary ears we may hear this sound produced in the ordinary way in the outer world. But we can also hear it in the inner world if we have a special kind of hearing. We can hear the unstruck AUM with our spiritual ears. It is not the same sound that we hear with our physical ears. The inner AUM comes from an inner world and its sound is altogether different. With our human ears we cannot hear it. We must have a different type of hearing if we want to hear the true soundless sound.

The concept of the "soundless sound" in Hinduism and the koan of the "sound of one hand" in Zen Buddhism do share some similarities in terms of exploring the nature of sound and its transcendental aspects. While they come from different spiritual traditions, both point to a realm beyond ordinary perception.
In Hinduism, the "soundless sound" is often referred to as AUM or OM. It is considered the primordial sound, symbolizing the ultimate reality and the vibration that underlies the entire universe. Sri Chinmoy explains that AUM is called the soundless sound because it is not produced by the striking of any physical objects. It arises spontaneously from the innermost recesses of the heart and is perceived through a special kind of hearing, distinct from the ordinary senses.
Similarly, in the Zen koan about the sound of one hand, the master challenges the student to go beyond conventional understanding and perceive a sound that cannot be created by the clapping of two hands. The student embarks on a journey of deep contemplation, transcending the limitations of ordinary sound and eventually attaining a state of realization where the sound of one hand becomes soundless.
Both the "soundless sound" in Hinduism and the "sound of one hand" in Zen Buddhism point to the existence of a higher, transcendental reality that transcends the physical realm and can be perceived through a different level of awareness or consciousness. They emphasize the need to go beyond the ordinary senses and tap into a deeper spiritual perception to experience the profound nature of sound and its connection to the divine or universal consciousness.
While the specific practices and approaches may differ between Hinduism and Zen Buddhism, both traditions recognize the transformative power of sound and its potential to lead individuals to a higher state of awareness and realization.

22. My Heart Burns Like Fire

Soyen Shaku, the first Zen teacher to arrive in America, conveyed the state of his being through these words: "While my heart blazes with passion, my eyes remain cool as lifeless ashes." Throughout his life, he followed a set of rules that served as his daily practice. Let's explore the valuable lessons and the profound message hidden within this passage.
Lesson: This passage teaches us to embrace balance, mindfulness, and self-discipline in our lives. By adhering to these principles, we can cultivate a state of awareness and enlightenment.
Conclusion/Hidden Message: The underlying message in this article underscores the significance of equilibrium, mindfulness, and self-control. It urges us to harmonize our internal and external experiences, maintaining a consistent attitude and behavior regardless of our circumstances. Moreover, it prompts us to seize opportunities without hesitation, live in the present moment, and embrace the future with optimism instead of dwelling on past regrets.