A man is taking a walk. He comes to a wooden fence with a chalk circle and in the very center of the circle is an arrow. He looks further and sees several more–similar arrows right inside the “bulls-eye.”

   He asks several people who walk by who is this remarkable archer, but no one admits to it– until he asks a young girl.

   “Sure, that’s me doing it”, she says.

   “Remarkable” exclaims the man, “Could you demonstrate?”

    She shrugs her shoulders and says, “Sure.”

    The girl takes up the bow and arrow, shoots the arrow into the fence, then walks up and draws a circle around it.   


Koans 2: Thinking and Not Thinking


  Sometimes we think something is mysterious when it needn’t be-and wouldn’t be-with a little more information.

   A koan is a question without an obvious answer, a paradox meant to jolt you out of logical patterns of thought. Sometimes the koan is an enigma in your mind but not inanyone else’s. For a long time I had a personal koan going on. It went something like this: “Why is the logo for the active-clothing company “Under Armour” the capital letter H?” There’s no H in “Under Armour”!

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  That koan was a koan only to me. I never got around to asking anyone else the question and I’m glad I didn’t. Most people would have known the answer without giving it much thought, but my thought-stream can take me to some strange places sometimes.

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The 4th-century Chinese Taoist Zhuagzi told this to his disciples:


   “I dreamt I was a butterfly.

   I awakened and there I was, myself again. Now I do not know if I was a man, dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man.

   How do I know that loving life is not a delusion? How do I know that in fearing death I am not like a man who, in leaving home as a youth, has forgotten the way back?”

Interesting question. Maybe one better pondered than answered.

Like a Koan.




   A koan is a riddle that seems like a paradox but is used by Zen Buddhists to help abandon reason as the method of insight to great truths. It is meant to jolt us out of ordinary thinking. A koan can help induce a paradigm shift that opens the mind to creativity and moves it away from a rigid belief structure.

  The most well- known Zen koan is “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” That’s a good one but there are many more, some even more enigmatic, such as “Why is a mouse when it spins?” and “How do you pass through a gate-less gate?”.

    A koan can force you to change your perspective and see things differently. You are not able to think yourself to a solution. Some questions are meant to stir us to seek something more than mere answers, like empathy, forgiveness, or acceptance.

    The point is that sometimes it is good to be less reflective and rational, and be more intuitive and spontaneous. It is not simply our ability to think, to be rational, that distinguishes humans from other species, but our ability to be irrational- to pick up a sea shell and put it in our pocket just because we think it is beautiful.

     A koan can also remind us that the answer to a problem might be more simple and obvious than it seemed as we did our mental gymnastics. The sound of one hand clapping? The answer need not be clever or too complex. One answer could be …….silence.

Other Koans:

Monk: “Please teach me. “

Master: “Have you had your porridge? “

Monk: “Yes master.”

Master: “Then wash your bowl.”


Basho taught his disciples, “If you have a staff, I will give it to you. If you have no staff, I will take it from you!”


“The wind is moving the temple flag,” one monk said.

The other said: “Just the flag is moving.”

The Master replied, “Neither moves. Your mind is moving.”


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