I started browsing through the book "The Cathedral & the Bazaar" again recently, and I was surprised to come across a quote where the author, Eric S. Raymond, refers to Zen. In the section on "How to become a hacker", he writes that many hackers (where "hackers" refers to good programmers, and "crackers" is a derogatory term about people like to break into other people's accounts) like obvious things, like science fiction, music, and puns and wordplay.
In the same section, however, he also refers to Zen and the martial arts. He doesn't say much, just this:
"Study Zen or take up the martial arts. (The mental discipline seems similar in important ways.)"
I was surprised by the reference to Zen, mostly because all the programmers I have known have had only a superficial understanding of Zen, mostly repeating jokes about "The sound of one hand clapping."
Given Mr. Raymond's suggestion to "study Zen", I thought I'd share a few of my favorite Zen koans here. A Zen koan is usually a statement (or a series of statements, typically in a question and answer form) that a Zen student should meditate on. As Zen Master Seung Sahn has said, "Most people are very attached to words and speech. So we cure this sickness with word-and-speech medicine", including koans (and also other things, like "Dharma combat").
While "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is one koan, there are many, many other koans, and I thought I'd share some of my favorite ones here. Until I can figure out a better way to format these, please consider each paragraph below its own Zen koan.
"What is the sound of one hand clapping?"
"What am I?"
"What is your original face before your mother and father were born?"
"Has the dog Buddha nature or not?"
"What is the Buddha?"
"Three pounds of flax."
"What is the Buddha?"
"Dried shit on a stick."
Here is a small collection of other famous Zen quotes that I can remember off the top of my head. I'll add more here as I run across them.
"Everything is based on mind, is led by mind, is fashioned by mind." (The Buddha)
"If you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha." (Lin-Chi)
"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought." (Basho)
"Zen in its essence is the art of seeing into the nature of one's being." (D.T.Suzuki)
"Zen is your everyday thought." (Chao-Chou)
"When the student is ready, the master appears."
"Don't expect the next moment." (Shunryu Suzuki)
"In original nature there is no this and that. The great round mirror has no likes or dislikes."
I won't get into "answering" any of these Zen koans, mostly because I'm not qualified to, but if you have a Zen koan you would like to share, just leave a note in the Comments section below.