The sound of one hand clapping || Acharya Prashant (2016)

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Question: Sir, ‘The sound of one hand clapping’. Please explain the Koan.

Acharya Prashant: All our life, only that has happened to us, which has a cause and an effect. All our life, only that has happened to us, which is dualistic. When the Zen Master is saying that, “Go and listen to the sound of one hand clapping”, he is challenging you. He is saying that “Now, for once, can anything happen in your life which is un-caused, which is non-dual?”

Two hands are required to clap, which means that in your life everything is dualistic, that everything depends on past and future, everything is cause and effect, everything is material. Now the Master is asking, “Can you find out that which is and yet is not caused?” The sound is, surely, because he is saying, “Go, listen to that sound.” But it cannot be a caused sound. For the sound to be caused, there must be two hands. Master is saying, “Now, can you listen to the silent music, to the un-caused sound?” He is challenging him to go and listen to Anhad.

And when you start living in that, which is unreasonable, which has nothing behind it, which is not coming from your own past actions, then you are fit to be initiated. You can even be called Enlightened. That is about the Koan of ‘Sound of one hand clapping’.

‘Can you be touched by the non-dual?’ – that is the mission of the student.

L1: The student must indicate somehow that he really understands. And the Master must recognize that.

AP: No, the student must only come and say, “Yes, I could”.

L1: Yes, but not only ‘yes’, not only ‘say’ it. There must be something more in this, more in his behavior. Or otherwise, anyone can just come and say ‘yes’.

AP: No, you see, when we are making an ordinary claim, then that claim has to be supported by proof. But when we are making such an extraordinary claim, then your personality itself becomes the proof.

L1: Yes, show the personality.

AP: No, you don’t have to show the personality. You will be the personality. When you will stand in front of the Guru, it will be obvious now that you have heard the sound of one hand clapping. Small things need proof. Small achievements need to be displayed. Great achievements need no proof. They are self-evident. Right?

So, the student has to just return to the Guru and say nothing. And if the guru is a Guru, he will sense. He will understand that the mission is now accomplished. And Zen literature is full of instances where students tried to fool the Guru. And what does the teacher do then? He picks up his stick and beats him terribly.

L2: There is another story similar to this story. I am not sure if it is Zen or not. But the story goes like this: Master was sitting and two students were having their food in front of him. Then a friend of the Master came and they both were watching the students eating food. Then they finished their food, got up, washed their bowls and went to their room. The Master then says to his friend that one of them has understood and the other has not. And the story ends here.

AP: So, you like this story? So, that’s your eye if you are a Master. Even if everything appears the same, yet your eye will be able to see the difference. Two students, both are eating their rice, both are washing their bowls, and the Master can still detect that one of them has got it and the other hasn’t, even though both of them are physically performing the same action. Yet the Master can see the difference.

~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.

Watch the session video: Acharya Prashant on Zen: The sound of one hand clapping

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