Thursday, September 01, 2005

The sound of one hand clapping

As a teenager I remember hearing of a mysterious religion known as Zen Buddhism (sometimes shortened to just Zen). It was mysterious not just because my fellow teenaged ignoramuses and I had never been introduced to something so sinful as a religion without a god, but because it thoughtfully considered questions to which the answers were not simple or obvious.

One of these questions, as I recall, was stated this way: You know the sound of two hands clapping. What is the sound of one hand clapping?

The answers tended in two different directions. One was that there was no sound created without the other hand to clap against. The other noted that one hand could clap against something other than another hand, such as a leg, a face or another person's hand. Very esoteric, I'm sure.

Now know the original question. Japanese Zen master Hakuin (1686-1769), devised it as follows: In clapping both hands, a sound is heard. What is the sound of one hand? (In casual discussion this is usually corrupted to: What is the sound of one hand clapping?)

I now offer you a new interpretation based on years of considering this question.

What is created when two hands clap is sound, which is a kind of energy converted from air waves set in motion by kinetic energy from the two hands, originating from a signal from the brain telling the nerves to have the hand slap together using energy derived from nutrition taken from eaten food. I hope you see the symbolism of circulating energy here, a conservation of energy that is never lost, but simply alters from one state to another.

The air waves that create sound become kinetic energy that may transfer itself to some other form elsewhere. You may have read about the flapping of the wings of a butterfly in China eventually becoming a hurricane in the United States, as an example of how energy moves and transforms itself.

However, back to one hand in the air. One hand alone does not have the ability to make a sound unless it collides with something else. However--here is the new interpretation--one hand has the potential to use its energy to create many other things that require energy.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? It's the sound of potential. If you do not understand what on earth I am talking about, continue your quest for knowledge, my friend. You have much to learn.

Bill Allin
'Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems,' working to help people develop the skills to use their minds creatively.
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