Visit my new Happiness Project collection and shop journals, drinkware, organizational tools, and more.

For no reason at all, I did a little research on koans.

Each month of the Happiness Project has a different focus; March is Work and Leisure month.

As part of this, I’ve been keeping an “interest journal,” where I note topics that particularly intrigue me—because I’ve realized that I often ignore my interests, or try to make myself interested in subjects I think should interest me. And I’m pushing myself to follow up.

So when I recently became interested in Zen koans, I let myself poke around on the internet and read Miura and Sasaki’s Zen Dust: The History of the Koan.

Zen Buddhist monks meditate on koans, or teaching riddles, as a way to abandon dependence on reason in their pursuit of enlightenment. The most famous: “Two hands clap and there is a sound. What is the sound of one hand?” Here are a few of my favorites:

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.”

Getsuan said to his students, “Keichu, the first wheel-maker in China, made two wheels having fifty spokes each. Suppose you took a wheel and removed the nave uniting the spokes. What would become of the wheel? If Keichu had done so, could he be called the master wheel-maker?"

Wikipedia has an entry on hacker koans—hilarious.

I realized that I’ve collected lines that work like koans for me:

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

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

Matthew 6:21: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

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

Boswell, Life of Johnson: “He who would bring home the wealth of the Indies must carry the wealth of the Indies with him.” 

icon emailNewsletterLight

One Last Thing

Interested in happiness, habits, and human nature?

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. I share ideas for being happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

icon schooled

Find out if you’re an Upholder, Obliger, Questioner, or a Rebel.

The Four Tendencies explain why we act and why we don’t actOur Tendency shapes every aspect of our behavior, so understanding your Tendency lets us make better decisions, meet deadlines, suffer less stress and burnout, and engage more effectively.

Take the quiz

Get My Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to get my free weekly newsletter. It highlights the best material from here, my Facebook Page, and new original work.