A Zen Story : The Sound Of One Hand

Written By: Sky Yang

A Zen master once had a young protégé who was only twelve yrs old. Day after day, the young protege watches the older disciples visit the master’s room each morning and evening to receive instruction in Sanzen (personal guidance) in which they were given parables to ponder.

The young protege wished to receive sanzen as well. “Wait a while” said the master, “ you are too young” but the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.

That evening the young protege went at the proper time to the threshold of the masters sanzen room.

He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went in to sit before the master in silence.

“You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together.” Said the master. “Now show me the sound of one hand”.

The child bowed and went to his room to consider this problem.

From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. “Ah! I have it!” He proclaimed.

The next evening, when the master asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, the child began to play the music of the geishas.

“That is not it” said the master.

The child went back to his room thinking that such music might interrupt him so he moved his abode to a quiet place.

He meditated again. “ what can the sound of one hand be ?” He happened to hear the sound of water dripping. “ I have it !” Imagined the young protege.

When he next appeared before the master, the child imitated dripping of water.

“What is that?” Asked the master. “That is the sound of dripping water, not the sound of one hand. Try again.”

In vain the young protege meditated to hear the sound of one hand.

He heard the sighing of the wind, but it was rejected.

He heard the cry of an owl, it was not it.

The sound of one hand was not the locusts.

For almost a year he pondered what sound of one hand may be.

At last the child entered true meditation and transcended all sounds.”I could collect no more,” he explained later. “so I reached the soundless sound.”

The young protege had realized the sound of one hand.

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