Zen practitioners employ koans, which are questions designed to mystify the rational mind and evoke an utterly frustrating reaction so that one gives up the attempt to deduce a logical solution. In that 'not knowing,' the mind expands into heretofore unseen possibilities of connectivity (providing the student sticks with koan meditation and doesn't run out of the zendo screaming mad).
The most widely known koan amongst us Western savages, who try to understand ancient teachings by way of Japan, is, "What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
If one were a dog with super hearing, the answer could be, "A whoosh of air, " as that one hand claps against a wall of air molecules. But as we are not dogs, that explanation won't cut it with a stern Japanese Zen master, who will slice you to bits for this cop-out answer.
In the meantime, I recall an American-style koan which may be more simple for us spiritually challenged folks.
A ditch digger has been charged with the task of digging a hole 6'x6' for his boss. Not being bound by labor laws or city ordinances (perhaps this tale was birthed in Detroit), he finishes his task and leaves the hole in the ground uncovered, with no barricades or cones surrounding it to warn passersby. A blind man comes strolling along without the requisite cane, guide dog or Good Samaritan on his elbow. A onlooker lounges nearby drinking his chai latte and watches blithely as the blind man walks straight into the ditch, with unfortunate results for his frail skeleton.
Who is to blame? The ditch digger who didn't employ safety measures? The blind man without his cane, guide dog, or guide person, who dared to take a stroll on his own? Or the looky-loo who does nothing to prevent the catastrophic surpise awaiting the blind man?
The French have settled the problem with a law, non-assistance à personne en danger. The dude drinking the chai latte would go to jail. (The French can be so civilized if you care to ignore their Colonial past and other unpleasantries...)
But just as we are not dogs, Americans are not subject to French law; thus the problem still begs an answer.
The Buddhists have a solution, called the bodhisattva ideal; the driving force behind the individual is compassionate action. If one embraces this ideal, then once again, it is our chai drinker of lore who would hold the bag.
Expanding the perspective yet again, if all were to embrace the bodhisattva ideal, then the interdependent nature of the ditch digger, the blind man, and the onlooker would intertwine as One being. And in that awareness of unity, every being would take care to protect the whole, as in that protection is one's very own salvation...or safety net if you prefer.
Counter-intuition rises its head again: the best self-preservation is serving the All. So be it.
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