Koan 8

What is it now?*

One day, a Zen master with a clay pot on a wooden table before him asked several students: “What is this?”

Some said it was a clay pot; another said that it was an artifact; another said it was an assemblage of clay and wood; and soon there were other perspectives as well. A lively debate ensued, while the Zen master shook his head and laughed. Then, a student approached the table and threw the pot to the ground where it cracked into many pieces. An audible silence enveloped the room until the student asked: “What is it now?” The silence again filled the room as some students were shocked and others embarrassed by the aggressive arrogance of the student who shattered the clay pot. Then, the silence was shattered by the Zen master’s and the student’s laughter.

The Zen master and student laughed as they recognized the other students as the blind men in the “Ten Men and the Elephant” parable; each embracing their personal view without doubt; especially, their collective view of what breaking the pot meant in terms of respecting their Zen Master.

A pot is a pot, temporarily; as all things are ever changing. Moreover, the pot, like every thing, does not have an independent existence; it is, simply, a temporary expression of the everything. The pot can be variously described, but, ultimately, it is what it is whatever it is.


*Zen anecdote as heard/read by Bill Wisher 30+ years ago.