Many people think koans are mysterious and hard to understand. Well, in this post I’m going to explain to you how koans work.
Here’s a koan:
The Diamond Sutra says, “If people despise you, it’s because of sinful karma from previous lives that has inexorably led you into evil paths in this life. Then, being despised by people in this life extinguishes the sinful karma of previous lives.”
I don’t know if you can tell at this resolution, but there appears to be a tear coming out of her right eye. At the bottom of the poster is a caption that reads, “SAVE US – Contrary to popular belief, the slaughter of harp seals continues.” I truly love all kinds of animals and seals are pretty close to the top of the list. Still, when I look at the poster I kind of grimace at the bleeding-heartedness of it and make sarcastic comments to myself (“Is it really ‘popular belief’ that the slaughter of harp seals has stopped?” “Is that really a tear in her eye? Gimme a break!”).
I’m currently having some kind of friction with a coworker who I consider a friend. I apparently did something that really offended her, but she won’t address it with me or even tell me what it is. Having people mad at me is not one of my strong suits and, being the doggedly accommodating individual that I am, I have carried around an appropriately weighty brick of guilt and a remorseful sadness for a few weeks now.
This evening, I went into the restroom at work and, as I often do, looked at the poster with the harp seal on it. This time, instead of ridiculing it, I realized that the tear in the harp seal’s eye was for me. I felt a rush of forgiveness and relief. Of course! I’m no perpetrator, I’m just me! I laughed and said aloud, to the seal poster in the bathroom, “Ohhhhhh, thank you buddy.”
Now you know how koans work.
(P.S. Just for the record, I find the modern killing of baby harp seals for their pelts, or for any other reason, absolutely heartbreaking and repugnant. For more information on seal hunting, this is a pretty good (and graphic) article)