I realize that the study of koans is correctly connected to the study of Buddhism and is serious study. I have been posting some of these small stories and aphorisms that are used to teach and explicate. I never meant them to be an introduction to the study of Buddhism or even meditation. But they might be the introduction to that study for some people.


Similarly, I don’t think that when Gretchen Rubin wrote her book, The Happiness Project:, it was her intent to study koans.

I read online that Rubin was riding a city bus when she had an “epiphany.” “The days are long, but the years are short. Time is passing, and I’m not focusing enough on the things that really matter.”

She decided to give a year to a happiness project. the subtitle of her book gives you an idea of her approach:  “Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun.”

I first saw the book on the “New Books” shelf at my local library. I flipped through the book and then checked it out because I could tell that her project involved trying some of the wisdom from the past as well as current research, while not ignoring popular culture. It is not approach that will get you attention from “serious” seekers, but it is probably closer to where most people are in their lives.

Some of the things that she decides are worth pursuing are worth pursuing: a source of happiness can be the introducing more novelty and challenge into our lives. Some suggestions are already well know – money can help buy happiness – with a caveat, when that money is spent wisely.

I found ideas that I had already accepted myself. For example, the physical world and the peace and order of it contributes to your inner calm – or  lack thereof.

She also came to believe that small changes often make the biggest differences. Like a little koan.

Rubin posted online that she has looked at some classic koans and some non-Buddhist aphorisms that can be used in your own koan project as small teaching moments.

Two monks were arguing about a flag.
One said, “The flag is moving.”
The other said, “The wind is moving.”
The sixth patriarch happened to pass by. He said, “Not the wind, not the flag. Mind is moving.

That is a classic koan. I have observed the shimmer of trees and realized that it was not the trees and not the wind. It was my mind.

What do I mean by that? I am not able to tell you.

I have collected some aphorisms myself, including some I think of as “American koans.”  Here are some of the aphorisms Rubin found that might be part of your own happiness, or koan, project.

Robert Frost: “The best way out is always through.”

Francis Bacon and Heraclitus: “Dry light is ever the best.”

T. S. Eliot: “Oh, do not ask, ‘What is it?’ / Let us go and make our visit.”

Mark 4:25: “For he that hath, to him shall be given: and he that hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he hath.”

Diana Vreeland: “The eye has to travel.”

Gertrude Stein “I like a view but I like to sit with my back turned to it.”

G. K. Chesterton. ‘It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.’”

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