30 Blows

30 blowspic

In Zen we have a koan – an enigma wrapped in a riddle* – ‘Answer yes, 30 blows; Answer no, 30 blows’. This koan in particular points to one of, if not the hardest paradox of being a human being.


The longer you live the more clearly you see the effects of randomness at work. Now you can argue about the word random and call it God’s plan, karma, fate or any other thing. What they all have at the root is not-knowing, there are thing you just cannot know.

Each choice in our life leaves the other path unknown and no matter how clever we think we are, we do not know where either path leads.

Just so you don’t get the wrong idea about my monk-ness and invoking of various theological words and ideas, this reminds me of a whorehouse joke.

Seems there was this poor farm family and on the sons 16th birthday the father walked him a few miles toward the big city to the local whorehouse. He told his son this was the last lesson he could give him, paid the madam and wished him well in life. Sitting on the steps after he had finished his business, with no clue where to go, the madam felt sorry for him and said: you know I need an accountant are you good with numbers? Hanging his head he informed her he could neither read nor write or do numbers and she pointed him in the direction of the big city and shoo’d him away.

On the way he came across an apple tree and not knowing when he would eat again, he filled his pack. Long story short, he sold those apples in the city and 30 years later was a wealthy man and the largest fruit distributor in Gotham. Being interviewed about his life story and success, a reporter says to him: Just imagine what you could have accomplished if only you had been taught to read and write. He quickly responded, why yes, I’d be an accountant in a whorehouse.

The point is, you can only work with what you have, where you are at and neither of those things limits what you can become.

Each junction in your life will lead to outcomes you deem positive and negative. There is no path in which this is not true. Too many of us beat ourselves up for the decision we didn’t make or the breaks we didn’t get, this is a trap. We are all right where we need to be at this moment and cancer, divorce or loss can be just as good of resource as a big stack of money to move forward on our path.

So pick an apple from your tree of life today and have a great journey.

May your life go well

*A koan is not solved by the rational mind. Therefore, people in the zen business object to the word riddle. Likewise, it is ‘seen’ by the student, hopefully, so it is not an enigma – mystery – either. The definition I give here is appropriate for the audience. If you want to know more; google koan and ‘public case’.


2 thoughts on “30 Blows

  1. Pingback: Catch 22 | Empower YourselfEmpower Yourself

  2. Just catching up. In a recent yoga practice we were told to try the mantra “I am enough” inhaling “I am” and exhaling “enough”. A similar lesson, I think.

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