“Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?”
This question seems nonsensical, but this is only so when measured against the linear logical requirements of society. The question is intended to open the initiated mind to possibilities beyond the rational. It is also designed to awaken the possibility that spiritual answers require a different mode of thought.
The Koan is “What is the sound of one hand?” Of course, in terms of the conventional world there can be no sound from a single hand. Sound logically needs two hands clapping. However, the question presumes that one hand clapping has already created a sound and that it can be heard. The question is not about sound or hands clapping, although this is quite conceivable within the literal context. The question is rather about hearing the impossible, which is only termed impossible within the framework of conventional reality.
The protagonist is therefore pressing and encouraging a criticism of ordinary reality and to force the mind into other areas of understanding. The purpose of a Koan is to open the mind and perception to the truth. Koans are questions or riddles designed as instruments to the discerning mind in finding the truth behind the everyday images of reality.
How do Koans function?
Koans are not rational questions with final linear conclusions. They are especially designed for one purpose; this purpose is to open the mind that has been closed by habitual responses to the world and reality. They promote out of the box thinking which is much beyond the traditional approach in its scope and purpose both.
Our perception of the world is clouded by, first, the habitual responses that we are taught by society and secondly, by the habit-forming creation of our own selves or ego’s. In everyday life and through societal education, we develop ideas about reality and possibilities that our peers verify. We accept these “laws” as immutable on the basis of their habitual occurrence and certification by society.
For example, scientific authorities state that there is a law of gravity and that time is linear and proceeds from one second to the next. These “truths” are supported and bolstered by schools, society and our peers until they become unquestionable fact. This also applies to our ideas of human personality and of us. Change then becomes an almost impossible task within the framework of conventional society.
The purpose of Koans is to upset or dislocate the mind from these habitual ideas of reality and open the mind to the other possibilities and, eventually, knowledge of reality. At its most elementary stage the Koan is intended to question what we take for commonplace reality and to question that which is seen to be logically impossible. It is the best way to prepare for spiritual reality that transcends or goes beyond ordinary logical knowledge.
Some more story like examples:-
A Shorter Line
One day Akbar drew a line with his royal hand on the floor of the open court and told his wise men that if they wanted to keep their jobs they must make the line shorter without touching any part of it.Wise man after wise man approached and stood staring at the puzzle, but they were unable to solve the problem.Finally Birbal stepped forward and drew a longer line next to the first one, without touching the first line.Everyone in the court looks at it and agreed. The first line was definitely shorter.
The Value of Education
Nasreddin had a leaky ferry-boat, and used it to row people across the river. One day his passenger was a fussy schoolteacher, and on the way across he decided to give Nasreddin a test and see how much he knew.
“Tell me, Nasreddin, what are eight sixes?”
“I’ve no idea.”
“How do you spell magnificence?”
“Didn’t you study anything at school?”
“In that case, half your life is lost.”
Just then a fierce storm blew up, and the boat began to sink.
“Tell me, schoolteacher,” said Nasreddin. “Did you ever learn to swim?”
“In that case, your whole life is lost.”