Chapter 6: To Take Up a Koan
I have heard, Mulla Nasruddin was caught traveling without a ticket. The ticket checker was puzzled, because Mulla opened all his suitcases and threw things all over the compartment, and finally, the very effort of his search.He had looked into every pocket except one pocket on the left side of his coat. The ticket checker noticed it and he said, “Your effort proves that certainly you have the ticket, and it has got mixed up because you are carrying so much luggage. So don’t be worried, when you get off you can look for it. But one question I have to ask you: You have looked into everything else, why don’t you look in your left-side pocket?”
Mulla said, “Don’t mention that!”
The man said, “Why? When you are looking, then why are you saving that one pocket?”
He said, “That is my only hope, that perhaps it may be there. If it is not there, then it is certain - it is nowhere. I cannot drop my hope. First I will have to look through everything.”
And he was not only looking into his own suitcases, he started looking into other people’s! The ticket checker said, “You stop! These are not your suitcases. Are you a madman? You are not looking in the pocket where I think the ticket is, and you have started opening other peoples suitcases?”
Mulla said, “I will search first throughout the world; only as a last resort, when everything else is finished, will I check in my left pocket. That is my only hope!”
People always keep something aside, they never put everything, in totality, at the stake. And what they put aside keeps them divided. They cannot be total; they remain only a part involved and a part not involved.
So the first thing the koan does is to make you completely straightforward, pointing to a single goal, like an arrow. If this is done, soon your mind will be tired. But if you are saving some energy, your mind will always rejuvenate itself. The saved energy will never allow you to be so tired and so exhausted that you simply drop the koan, you simply say, “I am fed up; I am finished. This is stupid - there cannot be any sound with one hand clapping!”
At that exhausted moment, mind stops - tired, utterly fed up. With the mind stopping, even for a single moment, in the blink of an eye you are on the other shore.
For one facing the turbulence of life-and-death, these koans clear away the sandy soil of worldly concerns and open up the golden treasure which was there from the beginning, the ageless root of all things.
A very simple device, if done rightly, can open up the cosmic treasure - your ultimate home.
However, if after grappling with a koan for three or five years, there is still no satori, no enlightenment, then the koan should be dropped.
This is what I call a compassionate master. Bukko is very much concerned with the disciple - not just saying the ultimate truths, but almost trailing along with him by his side, as a fellow traveler, making him aware of every pitfall.