The Hempen Shirt

A monk asked Joshu, "All things come from the One, but where does the One come from?" Joshu answered, "When I was in the province of Sei, I made a hempen shirt that weighted seven pounds."

This koan is very famous. That all things come from the One is the first step in Buddhist understanding. It is not hard to grasp. But the question is, what about this One? How did the absolute arise? Each individual is "one" in the relative sense. But, interestingly, each individual one is, in itself, absolute. Microcosm and macrocosm are the same. East and west are different, but if one travels west, one will arrive east and eventually return to the starting point. In truth there is no east and west; only in this relative world do we have east and west. The monk who asked Joshu the question tried, perhaps, to embarrass the old Master. But Joshu answered from a totally different world. If one attaches to the words, "hempen shirt" or "seven pounds," one will never understand. Reality is not rationality. Joshu answered with reality, the concrete facts, totally transcending rationality. Truth is always concrete. 


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