"Zen" is far more than the sound that a ninja's throwing star makes as it whistles past your ear. Contrary to popular belief, the role of ninjas in Zen is minor, at most. What is Zen really about? Koans. What are koans? Oh ho.

The koan: "Mokusen's Hand"

Mokusen Hiki was living in a temple in the province of Tamba. One of his adherents complained of the stinginess of his wife.

Mokusen visited the adherent's wife and showed her his clenched fist before her face. "What do you mean by that?" asked the surprised woman.

"Suppose my fist were always like that. What would you call it?" he asked. "Deformed," replied the woman.

Then he opened his hand flat in her face and asked: "Suppose it were always like that. What then?" "Another kind of deformity," said the wife.

"If you understand that much," finished Mokusen, "you are a good wife." Then he left.

After his visit, this wife helped her husband to distribute as well as to save.

The enlightenment: Shortly afterwards, Mokusen Hiki was removed from the Society of Professional Zen for making physical threats towards women. He went on to found a short-lived newsletter on amateur woodworking. The back issues of that newsletter are all that remain of him today.

This has been "Zen Koans Explained." A horse?

[Photo: Shutterstock]