Common Koan

broken plate

Patrick was already packing up when the phone rang.
“Hey, little brother. Why don’t you come over for dinner with us tonight?”
“Oh, I already have plans, Meg. Maybe tomorrow.”
“What are you up to this evening?”
“I’m meeting a bunch of guys at O’Toole’s for a couple of drinks and maybe some darts.”
“You do that too much, Patrick. You know how bad drinking is for you. You need some good food in you.”
“Thanks, sis, but I’ve gotta go.”

That’s when it started, her monologue on how he was wasting his life partying and not getting settled with a family. “You’re 31 already, and you’re still acting like a college kid.”
Patrick looked at the clock; he was already late.
“Meg, you tell me the same thing all the time. I like my life. Why do you keep advising me to be someone else.?”
She paused for a few seconds. Her usual one-way lecture had turned into a two-way conversation. “Well, uh, I want you to be happy, little brother. I love you.”
“If I assume the lifestyle you keep suggesting, will you love me more?”
“I already love you, Patrick. How could I love you more?”
“What if I don’t take any of your advice, Meg, would you love me less?”
“Of course not, Patrick. I’ll always love you.”
“Then what is the purpose of your advice?”


This dialog was inspired by a koan I read about recently. A teacher lives in a small hut called “rich field”. He only has one tray and it is made of clay. One day one of his students breaks the tray. The teacher asks the student to replace it. Each time the student does, the teacher throws it out proclaiming “This is not it. Give me back my old one!”

A commentator says of this koan, “The real treasure begins in the breaking. The body breaks, things change, life ends.” We must embrace impermanence. Read more at The Sword Disappears in the Water.


Photo by chuttersnap courtesy of Unsplash

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