Friday, 7 May 2010

The Sound of One Hand

We have just had a general election in the United Kingdom. I do not know about anybody else but on such nights I cannot sleep, I stay awake and watch as the results pore in. It was an interesting night in many ways, one of the most interesting it is difficult to look at the results and talk in the same breath of a United Kingdom.

But, let’s have no more of that. I was intrigued to read all the comments yesterday, your thoughts on the sound of silence. Jerry had two bites of the cherry and got us thinking of Simon and Garfunkel. All in all it gave me a very interesting day of thinking. I thank you all, it took me back in so many ways.

I remember when I began teaching philosophy and world religions. I used to tell the following tale to my students and set them a task. Some of them got really involved in the attempt others gave up very quickly, thinking it was all nonsense. These were the ones I knew I was going to have to challenge if they were to get the awards they wanted.

Let me tell you the tale, then let you think on it. Sherry, those little thoughts that buzz round in the silence have a go at this in those sounds.

A young monk went to his master asking for help with his meditation. The master sat him down and said to him, “Clap your hands together please.” The young lad did as he was asked. “Now I want you to go and remembering the sound of two hands I want you to discover the sound of one hand clapping.”

As the lad meditated he heard the soft music of the geishas. H asked the master if this was the sound but was told no. As the weeks stretched on he returned to the master often with different ideas. He discovered that it was not the gentle sound of water, or the sound of the gentle breeze. Neither was it the hum of the buzzards.

More then ten times he returned over the course of a year. The he discovered the answer.

As I go off to contemplate the back of my eyelids I leave you the riddle. “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” I will tell you something I never ever told my students. Every artist knows the answer.

I am not sure if I will be able to post a blog over the weekend but will make every effort to do so if not see you next week.

This blog is linked to my other where the artwork used is discussed:- Cape Lilly


  1. Just goes to prove that I am not an artist. My logical and analytical side says the sound of one hand clapping is simply silence.

  2. Ah, nice riddle there Ralph, and one that could be interpreted so many different ways! To an artist, one hand clapping may be the beauty they create. Since you weren't teaching art at the time, but philosophy and religion, it could be one hand clapping means meditation, or as Sherry said, silence. I tend to think that one hand clapping is the hand you extend to others. Whether they are in need of just a bit of help, say with opening a door, or helping them carry something or if the extended hand is simply a reassuring and encouraging pat on the back when a person might need it most. Most folks are born with two hands, but it is the people who are willing to extend one or both to others that can heartily appreciate them. p.s. I look forward to seeing what your answer is!

  3. What will I do this weekend? You begin my day Ralph and if not here you will be missed! "The sound of one hand clapping" reminds me of another song! "It takes two baby, me and you!" One hand clapping is like banging on the table, it will make a sound but it is not a clap. The question doesn't have me stumped as much as the hint, "all artists know the answer"! Gee, how dumb can I be? I KNOW that when a tree falls down in the forest and no one is there it does NOT make a sound! That is simple. It makes soundless vibrations, only causing sound within my own ears. The answer is close, Ralph, the sound has to be within me! I just need to be able to hear it.

  4. The sound of one hand clapping has its own resonance; its own vibration.....different and distinct from the resonance and vibration of two hands clapping.

    As with two artists ... the same scene; different interpretations, different intuitive response, different resonance.