Zen Koan 1: How old is Buddha?

Part of Zen meditation practice is concentrating on a koan, a question asked of a meditating student by a Zen master to help the student free himself from the frameworks created by mind.

In a complex world where we can be easily overwhelmed by experiences, the frameworks (categories, generalizations and descriptions) organize experiences. As such, our experiences are not of it is what it is whatever it is, they are an experience of the meanings, descriptions and stories of the frameworks are mind has created.

I was once asked by an acquaintance, Craig who has been doing Zen meditation for some years, the koan: “How old is Buddha?”

To which I replied: Buddha is as old as Buddha is. Buddha is old, young and everything in between. Buddha is as old as you want him to be. Buddha is timeless as Buddha is a concept. Which Buddha; as some Buddhas have come and gone, some are being born and some are dying? What is Buddha? Buddha is one day older than he was yesterday. As the only constant in the universe is change, the age of Buddha cannot be determined as his age is forever changing. I can’t say how old is Buddha as I don’t know him in terms of age, do you?

My responses to the question of how old is Buddha seemed absurd to Craig. His response:  “That’s not it, more zazen [meditation].”

Then it dawned on me. How old is Buddha? It is what it is whatever it is.

Likewise, the answer to the often cited koan, what is the sound of one hand clapping? The sound of one hand clapping is the sound of one hand clapping. It is what it is whatever it is.

An alternative response to how old is Buddha and what is the sound of one hand clapping?  Why do five baby ducks walk behind a red rooster? This answer is another koan.

The purpose of Zen meditation is Zen meditation. The purpose of a koan is to focus the mind on one thing and let everything else fall away until the koan too falls away as a meaningless, empty construct. One then remains with the meditation alone, in the void between when the unseen becomes the seen. At that point one becomes one with everything.