Form of Buddhism developed in China termed Ch'an, and transported
to Japan. Is distinguished primarily by the use of the Chinese 'kung-an',
or Japanese 'koan', which is generally a question posed to a student,
the answer of which indicates the relationship of the student to the
object of the problem, as the state of Enlightenment.
A non-sensical word puzzle such as what is the sound of one hand clapping
or what is the meaning silly water, that it used as a technique in some
schools of Buddhism particularly
to nudge the individual away from the logical, sensical and
(Progressive) frame of reference; to that which is more
in accord with the true condition of human understanding as the
the goal of which is Enlightenment.
I was maybe nineteen and my intellectual awareness was somewhat limited perhaps to television, custom cars or drinking beer. Was a bunch of us boys
'up town' to get a coke, from the machine in front of the grocery store. The
town consisted of a block long main street, comprised from west to east, of a linoleum and tile store, lumber yard, grocery store, shoe store, bar, tavern and
a very large and active Victorian train station on the other side of the street. Nagel who was the same age as I, but ahead of me by one school year, turns up. He is home for a visit from his first or second year of college. He knew I
was interested in things like flying saucers, Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock television stories, so he draws me a picture of the the Chinese Taoist symbol,
of the circle with the 'S' and two circles within and says, "This is a Chinese symbol and it represents the fundamental elements of the world. Figure out what this means and let me know". I was working in a factory, keeping grinding machines that ground synthetic sapphire for record player needles, loaded with
unrefined material and checking the finished results. This took about fifteen or twenty minutes out of an hour, with the rest of the time to just sit there, so I began to study the symbol in the meanwhile. Spent at least six months on it. Began to use pencil, pen and paper to keep track of the many ideas I was having concerning the problem. The object seemed like it must be to reduce
the multitudinous elements of the world down to what was symbolized by the two halves of the circle, the two circles within, and possibly what was outside the circumference. So my solution was that I reduced it all down to education, government, religion and something I don't remember. It was the following summer, and Nagel being home from college, I went to his house to give him
my answer, that I was really quite proud of and curious to see if it was correct. His mother told me he was out at Pickerel Point. So I went to the place which was a narrow thickly wooded peninsula in a small lake. A dirt and root tangled path led along the shore that wove in and out of tiny little tree canopied coves. Nagel was sitting at one of these inlets, his pants rolled up to his knees, his feet in the lapping water, his shock of thick, black, short hair and his face mottled by spots of sunlight filtering through the leafy arches of the wood - reading a book. After some small talk I pulled out my paper and gave him my answer to the problem.
He looked at it for a little while and smiled. Finally he said, "When I gave this question to you, it was a joke you IDIOT. Nobody knows for sure what it means". Point of fact, that while this 'joke' was not the catalyst that would later change
my life, it did introduce me to the process of critical
analysis, and the existence of Taoism, that would later
become the means to save me from self-destructive propensities, and a
method to psychoanalyze myself and change my life. Kinda like a Zen Koan
with a greatly delayed result.