Osho on Zen Koans – A Koan is a puzzle, A Koan is an impossible puzzle

Osho – Someone has asked a very beautiful question. Really, the question is a Zen koan. First it will be useful to understand what a Zen koan is. Only then can this question be discussed. Zen has a special method of meditation. They call it ‘koan’ or ‘ko-an’. A koan is a puzzle. But it is not like an ordinary puzzle. It is a puzzle that cannot be solved. Ordinary puzzles can be solved, they are meant to be solved. They may be difficult, but they are not impossible. A koan is an impossible puzzle. You cannot solve it; there is no way to solve it.

For example, this is a Zen koan: what is the sound of one hand clapping? If you use two hands a sound is created, but if you use only one hand, what sound is created? This is a koan. Impossible to solve. Whatsoever you say will be wrong. Unless you remain totally silent, everything will be wrong. This koan is to create a total silence in you, where no answer is coming. If answers are coming they will go on being the wrong answers, because every answer is wrong — no sound can be created by one hand. But if you say, “No sound can be created,” you have missed the point.

Obviously, everyone knows that no sound can be created. But the teacher is still asking you, “If a sound is created by one hand, what will that sound be?” He also knows that no sound can be created, so there is no need to tell him and no need to try to be wiser than he. You have missed the point. You have to meditate on the koan and find out what type of sound will be created if a sound can be created by one hand.

You go on thinking. You have to use every way, every method, every technique to think about it. You have to dream about it, meditate on it, concentrate on it. Many answers will be given by your mind, but you already know that no answer is possible. Still, your mind will go on saying, “Try this.” “Try this.” “This may do.” You may say that no answer is possible, but the realization is not very deep because your mind goes on giving answers. While I am talking, you must be trying to find out what type of sound can be created by one hand. This means that your mind is puzzled by this impossible puzzle. Go on thinking, thinking….

When you come to your master to give him the answer, he may beat you or throw you out of the room saying, “Go! This is stupid!” Whatsoever answer you bring he is going to beat you, because no answer is possible until you come without any answers, until you come in total silence. The master will know when you have found the answer, because your face will be different when there is no answer within, no thought within. When you have come in total silence, the master will know. He may bow down to you, he may touch your feet.

These koans are for meditation: to help you to go beyond the mind, beyond mentation, beyond minding — the continuous fuss in the mind. The mind goes on thinking, thinking, thinking. These koans are so that you can stop thinking. They are impossible to solve so you cannot think about them. Finally, you have to stop thinking. It may take time, but you are only wasting energy. Sometimes years pass, and you have not yet come to the end of thinking.

When you come to the end of thinking, a gap is created, an interval. In that interval, you realize yourself — not the answer to the koan. But because of the koan, because of the device, thinking has stopped. You are bored with it; you cannot think anymore, you simply cease to think. You remain silent. The puzzle has stopped puzzling you. In that silent moment, you realize yourself.

Now, this question. It is a koan. Someone has asked: DOES A DOG HAVE A BUDDHA NATURE? And this is a very important question! If you answer yes or no, you lose your own Buddha nature.

This is a Zen koan. It has been used continuously for two thousand years. The teacher, the master, gives this koan to the disciple: “Go and find out whether a dog has a Buddha nature or not.” It is not a puzzle yet, because you can answer yes or no. But then it immediately hits you that this is a very significant thing. If you answer yes, or if you answer no, both ways you miss your own Buddha nature. So what to do?

One of the greatest Zen masters, Rinzai, used to use this koan. He would say, “If you say yes, I will beat you. If you say no, I will beat you. Go and find out the answer, find out whether a dog has a Buddha nature or not. And whatever answer you come back with, I am going to beat you!” It became puzzling. But the puzzle was purposeful, because no answer is needed.

If you say yes, why do you miss your own Buddha nature? If you say no, why do you miss your own Buddha nature? If you say, “Yes, a dog has it,” you miss, because how can a dog have a Buddha nature when even Gautam Buddha had to struggle for lives and lives to attain it? If a dog already has it, then Gautam Buddha was just stupid. What was he struggling for? For lives he was struggling and struggling to find his Buddha nature, to find the ultimate soul within him, and even a dog has it…? Then Buddha falls down even lower than a dog.

If you say no — if you say, “No, a dog does not have a Buddha nature” — then again you miss, because if a dog has not got it then there is no possibility of any evolution. Then how can the dog grow to be a Buddha one day? Every Buddha has been a dog once, an animal once. Even lower than an animal — a vegetable. Even lower than a vegetable. Everyone has been through all these stages. If someone (Gautam Siddharth) becomes a Buddha and he has once been a dog, an animal, a plant, a tree, everything — if his Buddha nature comes to be realized one day, how can it happen if it was not already there? It is just a manifestation; it must have been hidden somewhere. So you cannot say no, because a dog has a Buddha nature hidden somewhere within him. Manifested, it is nowhere to be found in him; but, hidden deep down, it is there.

So both answers miss the point. And by missing the point you miss your own Buddha nature, because you are a dog. an animal — not yet a Buddha. If you say yes, then you will not endeavor to attain it, because it is futile to endeavor for something that you have already got. And if you say no, the possibility is closed. So both answers miss the point. But if you go on thinking about it, just by thinking about these two contradictory answers….

Go on thinking about it. Stop all other thinking and concentrate your whole consciousness on this point: whether a dog has a Buddha nature or not. Go on thinking of all the possibilities, all the alternatives, all the arguments for and against. Go on thinking about it; make it a deep meditation. Then suddenly one day thinking will stop, because you cannot find any alternative through thinking. And when thinking stops, it is not going to be that you will get the answer to the koan. The koan is not meant for that. When thinking stops, you will realize your own Buddha nature.

Whenever anyone would come to one Zen master, Bokuju. he would give them this puzzle: whether a dog has a Buddha nature or not. Everyone knew about it. Even newcomers knew that he was going to give them this koan.

One newcomer came. He must have been a wise man — at least in his own eyes. He thought, “I’m not going to give Bokuju a chance to ask me this puzzle. I will ask it to him first. Let us see what will happen then.”

He came with many friends. The moment Bokuju was about to utter the words, the disciple said, “Stop! First let me ask you a question. Does a dog have a Buddha nature or not?”

And you know what Bokuju did? Even if you know, it is better that I should repeat it. He said, “Bow-wow!” — he became a dog. He didn’t answer, and yet he answered. He was saying. “I am both. A dog and a god. both. The lowest within me is a dog. and the highest within me is god.”

So don’t get entangled in the duality. Transcend both. That was the meaning of Bokuju’s joke. Laughter transcends both.

Source – Osho Book “The New Alchemy: To Turn You On”

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