Friday, 22 March 2019


296. The twelfth-century Chinese Ch'an master Wakuan asked his disciples a very strange question that soon acquired the character of a koan. His question: 'Why has the Western Barbarian no beard?' Faced with this question we might immediately reply with an answer that begins with 'but' as, looking at any picture of Bodhidharma, we point out what in Australia we call 'the bleeding obvious'. Or, perhaps digging a little deeper into Wakuan's question, we might begin our answer with 'because' and then proceed to expound something of the Zen philosophy of Emptiness. However, both responses miss the point of Wakuan's koan. For while it is true that this koan must be approached in terms of both form and emptiness, our approach must nevertheless cut through our tendency to wordiness, to theorising, to conceptual thinking, to literal interpretation. So, tell me, 'Why has the Western Barbarian no beard?'

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