Are dolphins really as smart as people say they are?

~ PZI Miscellaneous Koans

The obvious answer to the above koan is an emphatic Yes!: dolphins have suspended all nuclear weapons development, are not contributing to global warming and don’t seem to have much poverty in their pods. But if the answer to a koan makes sense, it probably is not Zen.

Yesterday I was the guest speaker in my daughter’s World Religions class in high school. I talked a bit about the history of Zen, about the different schools in Zen, and then introduced a few koans. I asked the class to clap their hands, and said ‘That is the sound of two hands, what is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Some kids stared blankly at their hands and a couple of others waved their hands in the air, while we all laughed.

After 10 minutes of quiet meditation, some kids asked questions. A boy named Luke raised his hand: ‘What about enlightenment for animals that are smarter than humans, like dolphins?’ I asked him how a dolphin might answer that question. Luke was silent. I clapped my hands and whistled like a dolphin. Pretty soon everyone in class was making dolphin sounds and laughing.

I was just their age ~second-semester high-school senior~ when I began to meditate and experience the world of Zen. For me, It is easy as a road-weary parent with far too much personal nuclear-global warming-poverty baggage, to look upon these children as not yet able to understand the greater lessons of the world. Yet they are able. When they laugh and raise their hands in class, they are far smarter than I can say.

A really tender, shocking and moving documentary, if you have not seen it. The trailer is here: