Friday, May 15, 2015

An enigmatic koan: Nanquan kills the cat


池州南泉普願禪師 師因東西兩堂各爭貓兒,乃白眾曰:「道得即救取貓兒,道不得,即斬卻也!」眾無對,師便斬之。趙州自外歸,師舉前語示之,趙州乃脫履安頭上而出,師曰:「汝適來若在,即救得貓兒也!」

Master Nanquan found monks of the eastern and western halls quarreling about which hall should keep a (lovely) strayed cat. The master was not happy. He held up the cat and said, “If any one of you can convince me that he is enlightened, he can save the life of this cat. If not, I shall cut off its head.” Nobody could, so Nanquan cut the cat's head off. That evening, Zhaozhou returned from outside and Nanquan told him what happened. Zhaozhou removed a sandal from his foot, put it on his head, and walked out. (Paul's translation)

An enigmatic koan. The following is a messaging conversation between me and two of my friends after I raised up this famous koan...

Lady friend: The cat did not deserve to die.
Paul: Cat died, yet cat still there. Cat is lovely, dead but man (or woman) can't put it down. Cat's sad ending is related to its being loved. If the cat be treated like under man's sandal, it can safely walk away....the story said so.
Gentleman friend: Against religious discipline of animal killing?!
Paul: Understand the message rather than commenting the logic...
Lady friend: It has nothing to do with the cat being lovely! The issue is that the cat died under the hands of man who thought he is smart!
Paul: Don't be upset. Zhaozhou would probably ask you to seek the answer from the cat.
Gentleman friend: What is the difference between cat and man? The smart EU is using military operation to solve refugee problem. If Zhaozhou were life, men's lives perhaps could be saved.
Lady friend: The cat didn't choose to take part in this game. Man should ask himself - Why!
Paul's final comment: Koans are oftentimes enigmatic, the more you analyzed them, the more confused you got. "Nanquan kills the cat" is also being considered as a classic koan in Japanese culture. Yukio Mishima (三島 由紀夫) mentioned it in his novel Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺, he dared not putting on commentary. Koan is something to be felt internally. Being enigmatic, it can't be put to rest, has to be "kept at bay" in heart. One day, suddenly something is revealed, and one can feel the greatness of the koan. Buddhist master Hsing Yun 星雲大師 once said Nanquan just made the gesture of killing. He never killed the cat, how could a Buddhist master killed a cat! The internal tension of the koan , however, was lost. Some Buddhists condemned master Hsing Yun's interpretation as a twist of the fact in the wrong way. The master commented no more on the koan thereafter.

What more can I say....

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