Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Sound of One Hand Clapping


Krish self portrait
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
My nephew, Krishan, came over this past weekend to teach me how to make HDR (high dynamic range) photographs. As I worked at my computer processing the images I’d taken, Krish sat right next to me and made this self-portrait.

I mention all this because in a self-portrait the perceiver and the object of perception are one and the same. And, an identity between subject and object forms the essence of non-dualism.

So today, when I came across this explanation of the Zen koan regarding the sound of one hand clapping, suddenly Krish’s self-portrait became quite appropriate.

This discussion is by Ken Wilber. I don’t read him all that often. But recently, I have found some of his stuff quite helpful. For instance, I have never had much grasp at all of this koan (or really, any other). Though, I am given to picturing trees crashing to the ground with quite a thud in my absence.

But, I digress:

Usually, of course, we need two hands to clap - and that is the structure of typical experience. We have a sense of ourselves as a subject in here, and the world as an object out there. We have these "two hands" of experience, the subject and the object. And typical experience is a smashing of these two hands together to make a commotion, a sound. The object out there smashes into me as a subject, and I have an experience - the two hands clap together and experience emerges.

And so the typical structure of experience is like a punch in the face.
The ordinary self is the battered self - it is utterly battered by the universe "out there."
The ordinary self is a series of bruises, of scars, the results of these two hands of experience smashing together. This bruising is called duhkha, suffering.
As Krishnamurti used to say, in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.

But with the nondual state, suddenly there are not two hands. Suddenly, the subject and the object are one hand. Suddenly, there is nothing outside of you to smash into you, bruise you, torment you….

So what is the sound of that one hand clapping? What is the taste of that One Taste? When there is nothing outside of you that can hit you, hurt you, push you, pull you - what is the sound of that one hand clapping?...

As a Zen Master put it, "When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I, and no bell, just the ringing." There is no twice-ness, no two-ness, in immediate experience! No inside and no outside, no subject and no object - just immediate awareness itself, the sound of one hand clapping.

Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything. Chapter 13.

4 comments:

Eric Putkonen said...

That is an explaination I have not heard before...thanks.

I once was listening to a lecture by Alan Watts and he was speaking about zen koans...in particular this one. He said what was wanted by the master asking this was that you hear the sound of one hand clapping. Suddenly...and strangely enough...I heard the sound of one hand clapping.

Pat Bralley said...

I always tried to hear a sound too! (And never have.) Can you describe what you heard?

It's a strange attempt, and I too had never heard it explained this way. It's nice to share. Thanks for writing.

Kate said...

"...in a self-portrait the perceiver and the object of perception are one and the same. And, an identity between subject and object forms the essence of non-dualism."

You know how to leave me in the dust.

Simple-minded Kate

Pat Bralley said...

Ha, Ha. Just a pretty way to say, "Me ... see... That. Me and That are one." A parrot could say the first sentence. And the second sentence is just a theory to me.

Now, hands clapping, life slapping... that's good! (And not mine.)