The coin lost in the river is found in the river.
As mentioned in my first post, I have been working on the kōan quoted above. And when I say “working,” I really mean grasping at straws. But I’m happy to say that I believe I’ve solved it, and ironically it’s not like solving a riddle at all. I sort of knew that going in, but each time I tried to figure out this kōan I couldn’t help but approach it like a riddle.
The first few weeks after starting the kōan, I would repeat it to myself almost daily. During meditation I’d repeat certain parts to myself, maybe focusing on just “coin” with each breath. But as time went on I rarely focused on it, and instead the phrase would randomly drift into my head once a week or so.
I was walking home from work the other day and the kōan just popped into my head. As I noticed my thoughts latching on to the kōan I decided to approach it differently than before. And what’s funny is that I had told myself this every time when thinking about the kōan. However, this time it really was a different approach and I’ll explain why.
Around the holidays I switched from reading Zen material to writings relating to Taoism (The Way of Zen starts by explaining Taoism, and that led me down the rabbit hole of Tao). And one of the most popular works is Tao Te Ching. I started reading Tao Te Ching roughly a month ago, just repeating chapters over and over, mostly after my evening meditation. And to me, Tao Te Ching makes complete sense – it’s bizarre how deep the writing is, yet it’s written so plain and simple. One common theme in Taoism is that of opposing forces, and how life wouldn’t exist without them. For instance, day cannot exists without night, and night cannot exist without day. Many chapters have lines which seem to negate each other, yet their contrast makes the writing beautiful.
So while thinking of this kōan on my walk home, I decided that maybe I should analyze the words in my head like I do when reading Tao Te Ching. The coin lost in the river is found in the river. The coin is both lost and found. And I think at this point I accepted that it’s okay for the coin to be both lost and found, because one can’t exist without the other. So at that I imagined someone losing a coin upstream in the river, while later someone else finding the same coin downstream in the river. And when I pictured this scenario, it blew my mind. I’m not sure I can do it justice in writing here, but I think this kōan can be interpreted as a way to explain life and death. When we die we’re consumed by the earth to feed whatever life springs up after us. Then the next living thing soon dies, while the cycles continues. I’m sure you can stretch this even further, but I wasn’t expecting to have such a deep realization from a silly little kōan.
In short, that was enough to convince myself that I had basically solved the kōan. It probably sounds insane to anyone reading this, but really you should try giving this kōan a shot. Because I am sure that whatever answer you come up with will be vastly different and personal to your own experience. And yes, meditation did help me in solving this kōan. You can’t apply problem-solving skills to this one – it just doesn’t work that way.
In Taoism, there is a concept known as Wu Wei, or effortless action. It means that action is taken using your own intuition, versus complicating things with thought. And my experience with this kōan has helped me realize that there’s no point in worrying or over-thinking things. If we let go and let life take its course, things will naturally happen. However, in letting go we have to accept that the good things will always be accompanied with the bad. But part of being flexible with life means that more opportunities will come.
To practice Wu Wei, according to Taoism, we must be one with our own nature. And to me this means to take breaks from electronics, spending more time enjoying the world around us. Going outside and talking to strangers, not wearing headphones and instead listening to the birds chirping. But even deeper than that, we have to trust that we’re perfect just the way we are. There’s no need to change things to make them better. We can work with what we have, because what we already have is probably all we need in the first place.
It’s hard to share just one excerpt from Tao Te Ching, but keeping Wu Wei in mind, I’ll end with this:
Can you coax your mind from its wandering
and keep to the original oneness?
Can you let your body become supple as a newborn child’s?
Can you cleanse your inner vision
until you see nothing but the light?
Can you love people and lead them
without imposing your will?
Can you deal with the most vital matters
by letting events take their course?
Can you step back from your own mind
and thus understand all things?
Giving birth and nourishing,
having without possessing,
acting with no expectations,
leadings and not trying to control:
this is the supreme virtue.
Keep practicing. And happy 2018!