Ko|ans|wers for the 21st century

Late in the 20th century I put this comparison at the beginning of a Web essay:


Old joke:
Q: What did the Zen monk say to the hot dog vendor?
A: Make me one with everything.

New joke:
Q: What did Bill Gates say to the HotDog Pro vendor?
A: Make me the one with everything.

For this to have been more than faintly amusing back then, you needed to know who Bill Gates was, of course, but more importantly that HotDog Pro was a wonderful HTML editor, generally way ahead of its time. Today, with the Australian developer, the original Sausage Software, off the radar, the new joke is probably faintly puzzling at best.

I was recently reminded of this old-new parallel by an 8th-century exchange between a Zen master and his pupil, in which the teacher challenged his student’s meditation practice (here simplified from the version given by Heinrich Dumoulin in Zen Enlightenment: Origins and Meaning):

“Why do you meditate all day?” asked the teacher.
“In order to become a Buddha,” replied the student.
The teacher picked up a broken piece of tile and began rubbing it on a stone.
The student asked, “What are you doing?”
“I am polishing this tile to make a mirror.”
The student exclaimed, “How can you make a mirror by rubbing a tile?”
“How can you become a Buddha by sitting in meditation?!!” replied the master.

Now jump ahead twelve centuries, and compare the last two lines of the foregoing to the last two of this exchange from The Return of the Pink Panther (1975) between Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellers) and his boss, Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Herbert Lom). Dreyfus is expressing his exasperation over Clouseau’s failure to recognize that a “blind” beggar was in fact the lookout for a bank robbery occurring behind an adjacent window:

Dreyfus: “The beggar was the lookout man for the gang!”
Clouseau: “That is impossible. How can a blind man be a lookout?”
Dreyfus: “How can an idiot be a policeman??!!!”

In that same spirit, here are some new answers to old questions. The questions (or stories or statements) are koans, the non-logical contemplative “puzzles” used in Zen teaching. The answers (or responses or comments) may be faintly amusing or faintly puzzling or just plain silly. Together, they are “koanswers,” an incongruent conflation, if ever there was one (pun intended).

Koan: Why did Bodhidharma come from the West?

Answer: To get to the other point.

Koan: Does a dog have Buddha nature?

Answer: On the Indranet, no Buddha knows you’re a dog.

Koan: If you meet the Buddha, kill him!

Answer:
If a Bodhi’ meet the Buddha
Coming thro’ the Eye,
If a Bodhi’ kill the Buddha,
Need a Bodhi’ cry?

[A work in progress, with apologies so far to the chicken, Peter Steiner, and Robert Burns.]

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