Three Koans

Three Koans

There are many koans, many themes within koans, and many koans about certain essential themes.

One fundamental thread emerging from within the subtractive abstraction of koans is that of "experiencing the moment".

Koans are attractive on several levels. They are great fun to read and they effortlessly steal our attention, delivering it to where we (as egos) are not. With discipline, effort and scrutiny on our part, they may crack open the door to perception. With luck, we might just slip through. Of course, then we’d have to leave luck behind.

These three examples take slightly different perspectives on how to abandon oneself to the moment. While they are based loosely on traditional koan, I have taken the liberty to smooth and polish them into a narrative suited to the modern reader, recognizing the unique influences of our culture.

Be mindful when visiting koans that on closer reflection, you will find paths of awareness and understanding which are not at first apparent. Though distilled into a few paragraphs, koans represent the "essence" of human experience, and our relationship to the past, the future, and the current moment where we struggle with illusion and distraction.

Look carefully within each of these narratives, take measure of the influences. Experience how they are resolved.

The Tiger and the Cliff

A man traveling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled. The tiger, sensing prey, chased after him quickly gaining ground.

Coming to a precipice, the man scurried over the edge in a last effort to save his life.

Safely beneath the tiger's groping claws, the man caught hold of some exposed roots. While the tiger studied from above, the man looked below to see vultures picking the remains of yet another who had fallen from the same spot. Could the vultures and tiger have been confederates?

His only safety was the vine, that is until two mice appeared from within the cliff. Ignoring the man’s calls of "shoo", the mice, one white, one black began to nibble at his fingers, testing as to whether it satisfied their tastes. Might he have been Swiss?

In the midst of his torment and anxiety, the man spied a beautiful rose just inches from his station.

He removed one of his bleeding hands from its grip on the vine, and delicately reached for the rose, bending its stem to where he could inhale its essence.


The Bear and Tiger

Journeying through the wilderness, a traveler encountered a vicious bear (or elephant or whatever,  you decide for both of us). To save his skin, he turned about and ran for dear life.

Poor fellow.  Bears can be fast.  As the beast edged ever closer, the traveler had no option but to dive over the adjoining precipice. Luckily, he contacted a cluster of exposed roots.

Feeling safe for the moment, the man looked to see how far the drop was. He smiled, seeing he might be able to descend safely down. The smile evaporated soon enough when a lion emerged from neighboring bushes, closely studying the traveler’s predicament and positioning itself strategically below.

Our traveler was caught in the between. So long as he held firm, he could buy time to conjure a solution.

Two mice emerged from nowhere, one white, the other black. Put off by the man's calls for them to "shoo", the mice began to nibble on his fingers. Perhaps the man had been eating cheese while walking along. Perhaps the mice didn t like his attitude.

As his terror erupted, from the side of his gaze, the man noticed a cluster of blackberries.

Surprised, his fears lifted for a moment. He reached for the one nearest. Then another, and yet another.

How special they were!

The Swimmer

It was a terrible arctic storm.The vessel lost power and listed helplessly.The captain signaled for help, but nearest help was hours away.  In short order, a massive wave settled its fate.

The man had held close to the vessel s debris for hours until he saw the huge hulk drop from site behind him. None of the others could be seen or heard.

His protective suit had sustained him for a time, but now his limbs were numb, and without sensation.

The sea eventually stilled, and the surface calmed. He looked rearward where the boat had been for signs of life or movement.

Nothing that he could see, but then movement.  A ripple on the surface of the water, tunneling toward him.

Unable to bear his alarm, he turned to face away. In the east, the sun peeked over the horizon.

"My what a beautiful sunrise!"

In the Moment


        The relationship between past, present, and future.


        The unresolvable dilemma.


        Anxiety, fear, emotion, distraction. Being stuck.


        All that is left is the experience, and the moment, and the expansion of that into consciousness.


        The mice, the ocean, the unknown threats. They come with the turf, and are just as natural as the rose, the blackberry and the sunrise.

        They are the wonder and mystery of the moment.

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