What Is The Sound Of One Hand Clapping?

Is the above sculpture a Zen koan? 

I encountered this piece of public art near Puget Sound in West Seattle on a hot summer day in 2020.  The koan “What Is The Sound of One Hand Clapping?” rose in my thoughts. 

Koans are meant to bewilder, to provoke what Zen Buddhists call the “great doubt.” 

Could things be any more bewildering than the Summer of 2020?  A time capsule of our uncertain times:

  • We have a global pandemic
  • The tragedy of George Floyd’s death and its global repercussions
  • Protests and riots across the country
  • Fires raging across the West Coast

What do the above events have in common with Zen koans?  From what I have read, koans are meant to free one from the constraints of rational thought, by offering something different from formal logic. 

Formal logic?  How to explain anything? I thought the day I encountered the sculpture. 

And then I looked beyond it, to Puget Sound.  I was surprised and cheered by the sight of a few bold souls who braved the chilly salt water inlet with its sharp rocks and sea lions. 

Perhaps the sound of one hand clapping is the point beyond which speech exhausts itself.  The point where we know when the world is too much with us and we try something new.

I vowed that I, too, would plunge into the chilly water.  I returned the next day in my swimsuit and watershoes.

Be the water, I gasped.  It was exhilarating!

Stay tuned for the Summer of 2021 — I hope to be taking more dips in Puget Sound.

And may the planet be at peace!

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