Zen Wisdom 67



The records of Ch'an are full of examples of bizarre dialogues and incidents between masters and disciples. Frequently these seem to have a quality of absurd wit or humor. What is the origin of this quality which appears to be unique to Ch'an, not only among religions, but even within Buddhism itself?


In training disciples, Ch'an masters employ methods that are appropriate for everyday practice, as well as methods that are used only in special situations. They do not regularly employ the kung-ans that Westerners read about when they are first exposed to Ch'an. These kung-ans, which sometimes appear comical, are meant mostly for special occasions. If it were in fact true that Ch'an masters trained disciples only in ways described in these records, a stranger visiting a Ch'an monastery might gain the impression that they were in a mental asylum. In reality, life in a Ch'an monastery is a solemn affair. You would probably never see a Ch'an master burning a Buddha statue to get a point across. However, as it turns out, these unusual incidents are precisely the ones that have been recorded.