Salvation By Paradox: On Zen And Zen-like Thought
By Scharfstein, Ben-Ami
Journal of Chinese Philosophy, V. 3 (1976) pp. 209-234
© 1976 by D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht-Holland
Then, alluding to some apt words in Chuang-tzu, the master said,
Awakening to reality, they throw away the doctrine just as a fisherman, having caught his fish, pays no more attention to his nets. [p. 211] It appears to have been only a short step from an attack on the uncomprehending use of words and on the distance created between words and 'meaning' to an attack on words as such, and therefore to a rejection of scriptures because they were composed of words. I doubt that this rejection was ever consistent and unequivocal, but some Zen masters, speaking with their customary earthy directness, heaped scorn on Zen scriptures, masters, and images. One of them said, starkly, that the Buddha was a barbarian turd and sainthood an empty name. Lin-chi, using the same stark terminology, said, "Do not take the Buddha for the Ultimate. As I look at him, he is still like the hole in the privy".  And Hakuin, echoing Lin-chi, said, "All the scriptures are only paper good for wiping off shit". In an excess of enthusiasm, which, if taken seriously, would have ended his career, he said as well, "Studying Zen under a teacher is an empty delusion". 
This attack on words, by means, of course, of words, may seem to you to be arbitrary. It is no doubt theatrical, by which I mean, consciously designed to shock. It may not have been difficult to enlist the latent resentment of monks against the scriptures they had so often parroted; but we, I assume, are not party to their resentment. What are we to think of the attack? I have said and repeated that I myself like words and have no general fault to find with them. But they can be used without a sense of their nature and limitations. Philosophers, for example, and theologians, may easily press them to fruitless extremes, and almost anyone may sometimes be tempted to confuse a word or set of words with something it is not. There is, then, a possible truth in the Zen attack on words, at least in their more philosophical and coercively abstract uses, and I should like to put this truth to you in my own way.
I have written these words, on the inadequacy of words, on a previous occasion and I am reconsidering them as I write them down again. I am fully conscious of the at least apparent absurdity of using words to proclaim their own inadequacy. The success of such an attack could only demonstrate its own failure: it would have been words that had persuaded the reader that words could never really arrive at the truth. There is also the difficulty, which Aristotle tried, with relative success, to solve with his theory of forms or essences, that the particular circumstances under which I am thinking and writing have an implacable generality, which is all that I can hope to convey to you, just as my meaning has its implacable [p. 212]generality contained, so to speak, within this absolutely individual moment of my life.
The quality of absolute individuality is one that philosophers have, of course, considered and even invented names for. It is the inseparable 'thisness', the haecceitas, of every object, according to the medieval European philosopher Duns Scotus. The Indian philosophers known as the Vaisheshika call it vishesha. Buddhist philosophers express that which is unique, with no tinge of otherness, with the concept of sva-lakshana. But although suitable names have been invented for absolute individuality, no one, not even a philosopher, can live in a world all made up of unique particulars. If everything were completely different from everything else, it would be impossible to learn from experience. Strictly speaking, such a world, consisting of nothing but unique particulars, cannot even be thought, because thinking, whatever else it may be, is also a generalizing and a relating. Is it a sophism, or is it the lack of a theory of levels of language that tempts us to say that absolute individuals have their individuality in common, as is demonstrated by the use for all of the same name, whether haecceitas, vishesha, or sva-lakshana? Does not every argument in their favor have to generalize about them and therefore imply that they are not merely individual particulars?
I think I know where the trouble lies, though I have no ambition to analyze it exactly. Concepts, that is, abstractions, are useful because they are isolating. They function as do our senses in identifying what is, for practical purposes, the same, though the same at different times and in different places and circumstances. They isolate, identify, and contrast for us somewhat as we isolate, identify, and contrast in our scientific laboratories, where things are ruthlessly isolated or cut out from their natural nexus, that is, from the subtle, unique, indefinitely extended network of events in which they naturally occur. For although we use words, in the sense of proper names, to name natural beings that are more or less complete in themselves, we use words, in the sense of abstractions, to stand for characteristics that have no independent existence. The number system is a simple, persuasive example. We could hardly get along without numbers. Even animals need an ability equivalent to counting — some birds are said to be able to distinguish up to seven objects or occurrences. We need and believe in numbers firmly enough to feel uncomfortable when someone suggests that their reality may be qualified. It is no acci-[p. 213]dent, speaking either psychologically or metaphysically, that the notable Platonists of modern times have often been mathematicians. Yet, whatever in the end we care to think of numbers, it is true that nothing we perceive with our senses, not even the symbol for number, is simply 'one' in itself, or 'two'. It is always one thing of some particular kind, or two things, and so on.
All this is part of the ABC of philosophy, though all our sophistication, I am afraid, never rids us of the problem involved. The problem becomes acute, as we have so often learned in the history of philosophy, when abstractions come to be regarded as if they were things or parts of things, or when it is supposed that reality is made up wholly of 'abstractions', or that reality must conform exactly to abstractions, be cut, so to speak, to exactly their pattern. Sometimes I think that the tendency to see reality in this light is only the philosopher's obsession with neatness, as if he could not bear to live in a world he had not swept clean, straightened up, and protected with antimacassars wherever an oily head or sweaty arm might lean. We know well enough that even the most useful abstractions cannot fit experience perfectly or exhaustively. The strict 'either-or' of the logician is not always more adequate to experience than the paradoxial-sounding union of opposites of the mystic, or the mystic's frequent refusal to commit himself to any clear final statement. I do not think that this is true because of any radical defect in the principle of contradiction, but because of the inadequate ways in which we prefer or are impelled to use it. We often use it crudely in a world that remains beyond even our subtlest analyses.
What I am saying suggests the unease felt by many philosophers at the uncomprehending use of abstractions. As we know, Wittgenstein was particularly uneasy at the use of abstractions of the philosophical kind, which brought on, he thought, a special kind of philosopher's disease. Speaking in his name, his disciple, Renford Bambrough, insists that the normal 'yes-no' or 'either-or' standard of reasoning may not work well in philosophy. That is, it may happen that a certain statement or proposition, p, and its contradictory, not-p, may both be misleading. We may then try to say what we need without either making the crucial-seeming statement or contradicting it.
Wittgenstein preaches this method and he often practices it. When he 'assembles reminders for a particular purpose', when he adjures explanations and allows what used [p. 214] to be called 'aseptic' description to take its place, he is doing his best to escape from the standard philosophical forms of words precisely because he has noticed that they are incurably misleading, that to deny what is expressed by one of them is as misleading as to assert what is expressed by it. 
Chuang-tzu makes much the same point, though more radically. He knows, as we do, that analytic thought must, by its very nature, apply definite names, concepts, and values to our experience. All these are necessarily subjective, because applied from particular and limited points of view, and all are necessarily too definite, because inadequate to the fluidity, to the ebb and flow of nature. All these are therefore necessarily distorting. They lead us, he says, to become entangled in contradictions. We should learn to relax our conceptual definiteness and our incessant distinguishing between one thing and another. Things merge no less than they separate, and if this is hard to express in words, so much the worse for the words. Consider, for example, fixity and change, or, in words with a more human connotation, living and dying. Everything that exists is changing and so vanishing, and so to live is in a sense to die; and dying is a process that, as such, takes place, that is, exists, and so to die is in a sense to persist or live. Opposites are in a sense the same, "the admissible is simultaneously the inadmissible", and every different thing, every 'it', as the translator puts Chuang-tzu's word, is also the same as that which is other than itself. "What is 'it'," says Chuang-tzu, "is also 'other', what is 'other' is also 'it'... Are there really It and Other! Or really no It and Other?" 
The question can have no answer, Chuang-tzu thinks. "Therefore", he says, "the glitter of glib debate is despised by the sage. The contrived 'that's it' he does not use, but finds things in their places as usual. It is this that I call 'throwing things open to the light.'" 
Chuang-tzu does his best to stretch the medium of words to what he thinks it cannot or cannot quite express. He appears to agree that unambiguously unique or particular things are impossible, and that words, which signify that things are unambiguously definite, are always problematic. He uses words and recognizes their use; he sees their imperfections; he asks about them but gives no dogmatic answer. He takes the middle, indefinite path. He says,
Words are not just wind. Words have something to say. But if what they have to say is not fixed, then do they really say something? Or do they say nothing? People suppose [p. 215] that words are different from the peeps of baby birds, but is there any difference or isn't there? Can such a view be put without Chuang-tzu's impish paradoxicality? Perhaps. Perhaps it is put more clearly by the Indian philosophers of the Jain sect, when they insist that all ordinary descriptions of reality, because they must be made from a limited standpoint, should be prefixed, 'in a sense' or 'somehow'. It is a mistake, they say, to describe the whole of reality by means of a single predicate, such as 'unchanging' or 'changing'. Reality is neither the Vedantist's permanence nor the Buddhist's impermanence, but change in permanence and permanence in change. To drive this argument home, they tell the now famous parable, of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. One of the blind men said that an elephant was ear-shaped, another that it was trunk-shaped, a third that it was tail-shaped, and so on. But reality has ears, a trunk, a tail, and very much else, and it is no one of them and maybe not even exactly all of them either separately or together.
The Taoists and the Jains are both saying that abstractions, like mass-produced clothing, cannot fit all natures perfectly, and certainly not nature as such, in the absolute. Like many Indian philosophers and like the Neo-Platonists, they try to get below the surface of things and find reality there. But the reality they find must be inexpressible, either in the sense of a unique whole or that of a whole made of unique parts. It must be inexpressible because uniqueness evades the generality of abstract words. Both radical monists and radical pluralists ought to be silent. Silence, however, like speech, has shortcomings. As a Zen master said, "Both speech and silence transgress". 
The disciple of Wittgenstein I have quoted ascribes to his teacher an approximation of this last, Zen moral. He says, plausibly enough, that Wittgenstein maintains that there is something impossible about words in their philosophical use:
A characteristically philosophical form of words is always capable both of expressing something true and of expressing something false, and when such a form of words is used the speaker may mean by it only what is true or only what is false or both what is true and what is false in what the expression is naturally capable of expressing. Correspondingly, someone who denies an assertion made with such an expression may intend to deny the false content of the assertion, or the true content, or both. (This paragraph is itself a most misleading philosophical remark.) [p. 216 ] Chuang-tzu, who takes a similar position, says:
Treat as 'it' even what is not, treat as 'so' even what is not... Therefore behind dividing there is something undivided, behind disputation there is something not argued out. 'What?' you ask. The sage keeps it in his breast. I know that these words on the inadequacy of words are unclear. Let me try, then, to explain, because I have no ambition to rival Zen or other riddles with any of my own making.
If what I am saying makes no sense to you, I am not really speaking, so you must think, and certainly not speaking to you. But suppose the contrary. Here we are, you and I. We are invisible to one another. We are at different times. We do not know one another at all. Each of us comes from a different place and is going somewhere else, every day and all his life, and has different thoughts and fantasies filling his mind. And yet, as I am writing and you are reading these words, they enter the consciousness of each of us, and as long as they remain at the center of my consciousness and yours, I and you are thinking the same thoughts. In this sense, which I admit is limited, we are internally one.
I will be more radical. I am not simply writing to you, and you are not simply reading me. I am you and you are I because we are simultaneously having the same thoughts — simultaneously, not at the same clock time, but at the intended simultaneity of writer and reader. I could go further still and say that at the moment that we share the same thoughts I am not speaking to you, because, if I am the same as you, I cannot speak to you — speaking to someone else implies that he is different from me. If you answer that we speak to ourselves (I am speaking to myself now in mimicry of our possible conversation), my response is that the oneness I am speaking of is the moment we both share the same consciousness, that is, the same conscious thought, even if the two in question are located in myself.
Because I am talking about difference and sameness, let me suggest an impossible experiment in counting. If we could now take off our hands, feet, and bodies, how many consciousnesses would there be left? If, all containing the same thoughts, they would all be the same, why not say 'one'? Or if 'one' seems too definite and arithmetical a number for a situation so hard to count, why not say, with the Taoists and Zen Buddhists, "neither one nor many"? Listen to Chuang-tzu again as he states such a paradox, in a necessarily interpretive translation: [p. 217]
The universe and I exist together, and all things and I are one. Since all things are one what room is there for speech? But since I have already said that all things are one, how can speech not exist?Difference and sameness, manyness and unity, illusion and reality. Do these really constitute a problem or are they, paired or single, merely the nature of the world, which we should accept as it obviously is, without surprise? Niels Bohr, the philosophical physicist who held that nature could be understood only by means of 'complementary' concepts, used to repeat that truth is of two kinds, trivialities, the opposites of which were obviously absurd, and profound truths, to be recognized by the fact that their opposites were also profound truths.  John Wisdom, the English philosopher, sometimes spoke like Bohr, like Chuang-tzu, and, of course, like Wittgenstein, and insisted, "I have said that philosophers' questions and theories are really verbal. But if you like we will not say this or we will also say the contradictory." 
It is also possible to confine the attack on words to moments of especial insight, and to say, with that mystical genius, the mathematician, Luitzen Brouwer,
The language of introspective wisdom appears disorderly, illogical, because it can never proceed by systems of entities which have been imprinted on life, but can only accompany their rupture and in this way perhaps aid the unfolding that causes the rupture. Though I do not share Bohr's preference for complementarity, Wisdom's linguistic ideals, or Brouwer's mysticism, I find that in their uneasiness or protest they see, as do poets, that it is difficult and sometimes perhaps dangerous to try to translate all human experience, and therefore all truth, into words. In such translations, abstractions can tyrannize over particularity and emotion; or the opposite can happen, and emotion can tyrannize over reason. Words, particularly when specialized, tend to split their users into rational selves and emotional selves. The split, if profound, expresses a profound danger to human integrity, a fact as well known to the Zen masters as to contemporary psychologists.
Some of the more sensitive Western philosophers have tried to mitigate the philosopher's specialization and splitting. Looking back, years later, at his Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche regretted its form and said, "It should have sung, this 'new soul' — and not spoken! What I had to say then — too bad that I did not dare to say it as a poet: perhaps I had the ability"  [p. 218]
Quite as much in character was Nietzsche's comment, "Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalize; words depersonalize; words make the uncommon common". 
Wittgenstein, who loved music perhaps no less than Nietzsche did, found that loud words, like whistling aloud, could drown out what only the inward ear could hear.  Unwilling to lose any of the particularity of a sentence, Wittgenstein heard it musically. He said:
"Understanding a sentence is much more akin to understanding a theme in music than one may think. What I mean is that understanding a sentence lies nearer to what is ordinarily called understanding a musical theme. Why is just this the pattern of variation in loudness and tempo? ..."
II. THE DOUBT, THE SHOUT, AND THE BLOW
The old Zen masters were resourceful educators, and they must have vied with one another in the invention of verbal and physical techniques to arouse their students to the elusive truth. It was inevitable that the words of the revered old masters, the 'old cases', should be collected, systematized to a degree, and provided with answers (to be revealed to future masters), with clarifications, and with atmospherically fitting verses. Zen tradition came to see the koans as exemplifications of the transcendent principle, received silently from the Buddha himself, and, as such, beyond logic, beyond transmission in writing, and beyond measure by reason. To use one of the grander expressions of Zen rhetoric, the koan is "a divine mirror that reflects the original face of both the sacred and the secular". 
Everywhere I went I met with words,However, as the poem recounts, the doubt was shattered by an opportune blow delivered by the Zen master:
The Master, from his mat of felt,Hakuin, the great seventeenth-century Japanese reformer of Zen, always emphasized that the koan could lead to enlightenment only through such enormous effort that the Great Doubt, as he called it, would be aroused. The shattering of the Great Doubt was enlightenment and the welling up of a flood of exaltation. "If you take up one koan", he said,
and investigate it unceasingly, your mind will die and your will will be destroyed. It is as though a vast, empty abyss lay before you, with no place to set your hands and feet. You face death and your bosom feels as though it were fire. Then suddenly you are one with the koan, and body and mind are cast off... This is known as seeking into one's nature. You must push forward relentlessly and with the help of this complete concentration you will penetrate without fail to the basic source of your own strength. [p. 220] As the poem on the shattering of the ball of doubt intimates, Zen masters used what might be called, somewhat pretentiously, psychophysical methods. Lin-chi, with a dialectical verve that belies his anti-intellectualism, carried on the practice of therapeutic hitting that he had learned from his teacher. He administered his blows selectively. "Many students", he said,
are not free from the entanglement of objective things. I treat them right on the spot. If their trouble comes from their mouths, it is there I strike. So far I have not found anyone who can be set free by himself. That is because they have all been entangled in the useless mechanics of their old masters. As for me, I do not have a single method to give to everyone, but what I can do is relieve the troubled and set them free. Lin-chi was famous, not only for his hitting, but also for his effective shouting of Ho!, which, like the precisely timed interpretation of a psychoanalyst, was meant to catalyze insight. Ho!, like blows, was used discriminatingly by Lin-chi, who has therefore been said to have constituted a semantic system of the cry. It is only one of a group of now conventionalized cries used to respond to koans. The Zen cries, and, sometimes, Zen blows, may be used in a kind of dialectical duel, in which each contestant tries to transfix his partner on the sword of enlightenment. 
Other techniques were resorted to, as ingenuity or experience suggested. These techniques included the giving of an irrelevant response, the repetition of the question as the answer to the same question, and the use of a disconcerting negation or series of negations. Nose-twisting, we learn, was also available to the enterprising master.
Like any educational technique, that of koan Zen has sometimes, in its own terms, succeeded and sometimes failed. At its extreme, Zen technique suggests a strain of masochism or sadism. The first is suggested by the story of Bodhidharma's would-be disciple, who proved his sincerity and earned his discipleship by cutting off his arm. The second, sadism, is more than hinted at by the famous koan in which the master, Nansen, makes his point by cutting a cat into halves, a deed that would have horrified the many generations of Buddhists who believed in the utmost mercy for every living thing.
The use of such psychophysical methods has never, to my knowledge, been advocated by Western philosophers; though I should have to qualify this statement if I were to refer to Christian monks, the Jesuits, for [p. 221] example, or to some of the famous Western mystics. But the point I want to make is that the psychophysical factors, though not emphasized by Western philosophers, have nevertheless exerted their effects on them. Non-verbal communication takes place in philosophy just as it does elsewhere among human beings. It takes place most obviously when people are in intimate contact, and its most obvious effects in the history of philosophy are on those intimate, faithful disciples who may do so much to propagate a philosopher's ideas (and sometimes, too, his physical mannerisms).
Non-verbal communication includes the effect of the stance and motion of one's body, the changing size of the pupils of one's eyes, the quality, pitch, and loudness of one's voice, the rhythms of one's speech, and much else, including everything that is included in the concept of style. 
I do not want to contend that the way a philosopher uses his body must influence his disciples significantly. But there are cases in which it may well do so. The philosopher-sociologist, Georg Simmel (1858-1918), who was an extraordinarily effective lecturer, expressed himself, not only by means of his words, but by means of his bodily intensity as he spoke. As a contemporary described it:
When Simmel wanted to convey to the audience the core of an idea, he not only formulated it, he so-to-speak picked it up with his hands, his fingers opening and closing; his whole body turned and vibrated under the raised hand. His intensity of speech indicated a supreme tension of thought; he talked abstractly, but this abstract thought sprang from live concern, so that it came to life in the listener.Simmel's joining of ideas became visible:
He 'thinks aloud', somebody said of him. One could add: He thinks visibly, one imagines seeing how a thought occurs to him.... One can see how his brain operates, how he joins ideas like a carpenter joins wood.... One is led to participate in the construction. One doesn't listen, one participates in the thought process. Wittgenstein, too, exhibited great psychophysical tension, which obviously affected his disciples.
When he started to formulate his view on some specific philosophical problem, we often felt the internal struggle that occurred to him that very moment, a struggle by which he tried to penetrate from darkness to light under an intense and powerful strain, which was even visible on his most expressive face. When, finally, sometimes after a prolonged arduous effort, his answer came forth, the statement stood before us like a newly created piece of art or a divine revelation.  [p. 222]To Wittgenstein, teaching was the same kind of struggle, in which the participants were midwives, to help him give birth to the ideas that might save him.
He sat struggling visibly in his chair. He often felt and said he was confused or a fool. He was silent, tense, active, concentrated, his hands moving, his expression stern. His auditors, if captured by him, were fascinated and afraid. Not only was the struggle itself arresting, an obvious participation of his body in his mind, but he could be impatient (as he could be kind) to the discussants, fierce, dominating, domineering, and sometimes insulting. Some of his students supposed he came formally unprepared and thought out problems on the spot. But some, considering the drama to be calculated, supposed he was in fact prepared, and had in any case thought about these problems often. Though he was outside of any obvious tradition, there was something in Wittgenstein of a Zen master's overwhelming presence, in which body and mind had equal effect. Not, I think, accidentally, his questioning and his raising of tension, and his cutting sharpness alternating with solicitude were related to the Zen-like view that
all that we can say can a priori be only meaningless. Besides we run against the limits of language. This answer Kierkegaard saw too and characterized it as running against the paradox... It is a priori certain: Whatever definition of the good one may give -- it is always a misunderstanding. Before I change the angle from which I am viewing koan training, I should like to recall its sometimes unfavorable effects. Zen monasteries, like all such places of refuge from the world, have always had their share of the outcast, the unfortunate, and the unstable. It is natural that psychotic breakdowns occur among them. But the method itself of koan meditation is said to be capable of inducing depressions arid hallucinations, that is, a specific 'Zen Sickness'. Hakuin recalls predecessors attacked by it and gives a moving description of his own suffering and his recovery made with the help of an old monk. 
The victims or apparent victims of Zen training also appear in a careful account of the lives of twentieth century Zen monks in China:
One hears of monks who found it impossible to make any mental breakthrough either because they were 'stupid' or because they could not stop thinking about their parents, wife, children, and the other things they had left behind. At first they would be unable to keep their minds on anything. Then they would begin to have hallucinations and 'talk nonsense'. At this point they were usually locked in a room and a Chinese doctor called to examine them. Some recovered; some died. According to one informant, [p. 223] fatalities were most common during meditation weeks and the bodies were not buried immediately. It was felt that their death must be retribution for sins committed in former lives, so they were wrapped in quilts and left to be disposed of when the meditation weeks were over. 
III. ZEN FEET AND HANDS
The technique of the Zen koan is, obviously, to tempt the learner into logic, into the giving, that is, of a rational response. He must be taught to resist the temptation. His response must reflect reality unqualified, unanalyzed, unrationalized. The Zen response is therefore often by act rather than word. Consider three examples, all of which give the response regarded as correct in the Lin-chi-Hakuin tradition. 
"Monk: 'Where is the reality in appearance?'The second example is a koan that ends in typical Zen hyperbole:
"Whenever Master Gutei was asked a question, he would simply raise one finger.The third, last example is from the koan on the sound of the one hand, invented by Hakuin, and felt by him to be of the greatest value in first raising the Great Doubt:
"Master: In clapping both hands a sound is heard. What is the sound of the one hand?'This demonstrative, wordless form of argument is not totally foreign to Western thought. When Boswell told Samuel Johnson that the philosopher, Berkeley, had argued that matter did not exist, Johnson gave a famous response. In Boswell's words:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that everything in the universe is merely ideal. I observed that though we are satisfied that his [p. 224] doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I shall never forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, 'I refute it thus!'Boswell adds, "To me it is inconceivable how Berkeley can be answered by pure reasoning".  But this is precisely why, by Zen standards, Johnson is right. To answer Berkeley's reasoning with reasoning would be a mistake, a trap, Zen would say. Johnson is not engaged in the philosopher's usual epistemological analysis, and, indeed, most philosophers regard his response as irrelevant. After all, you can't kick an argument. But by Zen and Johnsonian standards, the kick, though technically irrelevant, is relevant in fact. That is to say, Berkeley has not only an abstract argument, but a practical goal. He wants to get rid of the belief in matter and, by doing so, to cause a change in attitude toward the world. Johnson commonsensically denies Berkeley's right to tamper with his natural reaction to objects or, for that matter, with his religious views. In Johnson's world, stones are not, as Berkeley would have them, immaterial messages being spoken immaterially to an immaterial Johnson by an immaterial God. Berkeley, or the stone that represented him, had the kick coming to him, or to it.
Not only philosophically unsophisticated men, such as Johnson, have come upon this kind of demonstrative argument. It was used, not very many years ago, by the English philosopher, G. E. Moore. This is the G. E. Moore who, Bertrand Russell once said, owed his prestige to his vehemence, to his famous exclamation, "O-o-o", which expressed "astonishment that any friend should be capable of holding so outrageously false an opinion".  This English kind of 'Ho!' aside, Moore used the argument to which I am referring to refute Kant's claim that the only possible proof for the existence of external things was the one that he, Kant, had given. Moore's response was:
"I can now give a large number of different proofs, each of which is a perfectly rigorous proof.... I can prove now, for instance, that two human hands exist. How? By holding up my two hands, and saying, as I make a certain gesture with the right hand, 'Here is one hand', and by adding, as I make a certain gesture with the left, 'and here is another'. And if, by doing this, I have proved ipso facto the existence of external things, you will see that I can also do it now in a number of other ways: there is no need to multiply examples.Contemporary philosophers may or may not be satisfied with Moore's argument. Zen Buddhists would surely approve it, though they might sadly note that the tradition of English philosophizing made it necessary for Moore to accompany the motion of his hands with explanatory words. Even the few he used would be too many for the pure Zen taste.
IV. SALVATION BY PARADOX OR TEA
If we look at the koans historically, it is not difficult to see how they were evolved and how they came into vogue as a training method. But I should like to try to understand, independently of the Zen tradition, what their usefulness might have been, and, in doing so, to think for a moment why it is that so many philosophers have been so preoccupied with paradoxes. "One should not think slightingly", said Kierkegaard,
This essay is drawn in part from my introduction to The Sound of the One Hand, translated from the Chinese and Japanese and commented on by Yoel Hoffmann. The Sound of the One Hand has recently been published by Basic Books.