Zen Koan 2: The Clay Pot*

A Zen master with a clay pot on a table before him asked several students: “What is this?” Some said it was a clay pot; others said that it was a man-made artifact; others said it was a table supporting a pot. A lively debate ensued. 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?” Then silence again returned to the room as some students were shocked and others embarrassed by the aggressive arrogance of the student who shattered the clay pot. But just as quickly the Zen master and the student broke the silence with laughter.

This story is essentially a Zen koan: “What is it now?”

The Zen master and student laughed because they recognized the other students as the blind men in the “Ten Men and the Elephant” parable. The pot is a pot temporarily. The pot did not have an independent existence as it was just a temporary expression of the universe. The pot could variously be described but it is what it is whatever it is.


*A story as heard by Bill Wisher 30 years ago from an unnamed source.