Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Tricks Of A Zen Master

Traditional Buddhism says that with enormous discipline and many years of meditation, you can perhaps become a Buddha… in a couple of lifetimes. Japanese Zen says the transformation can happen in an instant.

No meditation required, just a trick question.

Also known as the Koan.

But you can only get a Koan from a Zen master.

Traditionally a man, who has no inhibitions and a trouble-free life.

And when you knock on his door, his answer is always, “I don’t take on students. Besides, I have nothing to teach.”

But because he’s the keeper of a monastery filled with fired up monks, you understand it’s a test.

And so most applicants humbly and patiently wait on the steps until they’re let in.

If the candidate promises to contribute to the monastery’s daily tasks, the teacher accepts him as his pupil.

And between scrubbing floors and chopping wood, the student occasionally gets invited for an interview with the master.

Where he puts the student into impossible situations.

“What’s the sound of one hand?”
“How do you stop a sailing ship without moving?”
“Touch the ceiling without getting out of your chair.”

The answers to the oldest Koans can be found inside books.

But the answer is not the point, it’s the sudden change the Koan evokes.

If you already know the answer to the question, there is no transformation.

Learning works the same way.

If a school teacher spends a semester telling you the answers to the test in the hopes that you remember the slides, that’s not learning, that’s memorisation.

Whereas if someone asks you a brand new question that forces you to change your perspective, that potentially triggers long-lasting change. 

Ask the same question twice, however, and it loses its power. Now it’s routine.

If we want better students, we need more Koans.

P.S. Zen, which is a subdivision of Mahayana Buddhism, has 5 different schools. The Rinzai branch is the Zen school that uses the Koan.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach