Snapping the Fingers

Zengetsu, a monk poet, wrote a poem containing the following two verses:

The snap of two fingers
Makes a sharp sound,
But in hollow vessels
Echoes rebound.

Daizui heard this poem and, on meeting Zengetsu, asked, "What is the meaning?" Zengetsu could not answer.

Zengetsu was a Zen poet, and this koan deals with the first two verses of his poems. It was a custom in those days for Zen monks upon meeting to snap their fingers. The snapping of fingers had three meanings: a warning (for awareness), a surprise (for enlightenment), and an erasing of human troubles. Monks should know the true meaning of the finger snapping, but the poet comments that few really do. It is a human tendency to observe the other fellow. When Daizui met Zengetsu, he asked him the meaning. Zengetsu could not answer; he could only write beautiful lines. Many priests and scholars can give wonderful lectures, but how many are able to live them?


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