painting sound of one hand clapping

Daoist Talk (I) Supplement

The sound of one hand clapping

I’m sorry that the poll function didn’t work in the last posting! I should attend a course: “The Dao of WordPress”. But never mind, I got enough positive feedback and sure will post more articles on this topic. Thank you very much! There will always be a 2-week gap between posts to allow time for reflection and reading secondary literature.

Perhaps it was not wise to address such a difficult topic related to appearances and our consciousness in the first part of this series. The “existence of the nonexistence” challenges our Western thinking. [1] But it is a topic that is also well received in our western culture and that not only philosophy but also scientists. Especially physicists have dealt with. [2] And as already mentioned in another article, quantum physics brings a lot of enlightenment in this regard and thus meanwhile confirms views in Zen scientifically.

And then I remembered a painting I had done many moons ago in which I tried to graphically deal with the subject of the “one hand clapping”. Whether I succeeded is of no further interest to us, as long as the basic idea is understandable.

Many of us are familiar with the famous Zen kōan of Hakuin Ekaku (白隠 慧鶴, 1686 – 1769) “The sound of one hand clapping.” (However, the original title is “The Voice/Sound of one Hand”. The western translators added the “clapping”.) So my graphic reflections on this look like this:

painting sound of one hand clapping
The sound of one hand clapping

Does it exist or does it not exist?

For me, the topic of “The sound of one hand clapping” is a prime example of the “existence of the nonexistence”. If you look up the term you will see that it has been relevant for centuries and much has been written about it.
So, since everything exists through consciousness and our thoughts formulate concepts, the thought of “The sound of one hand clapping” also exists. Can one see or hear it or otherwise perceive it with the senses or measure it with the tools of natural sciences that have been available to us so far? Certainly hardly with the “tools” that we generally use. But it can be experienced. And we can experience it by stepping back into nothingness (e.g. as part of meditation) and staying in the highest consciousness, which excludes dualistic thinking and quantifiable perception.

And so my picture was not about visually depicting one hand clapping or making it perceptible aurally, but rather to serve as a kind of meditation aid for this “paradox”. And as such, I think it’s quite useful – hopefully.


This fine little video can help to better understand the work of the most important Zen master, Hakuin (1685-1768 – mentioned above as author of The one hand clapping), or to supplement our perspective.

Please do check Daoist talks (I) too. | landscape paintings in style of old masters


[1] Why a topic that is more related to Buddhism and Zen Buddhism is discussed in the context of Daoism, I will cover in the next post Daiost talks (II), which will be posted on October 22nd.

[2] Just recently, the Austrian quantum physicist and exceptional scientist Anton Zeilinger was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, which makes me particularly happy.

[3] If some of my works come across as a little “funny”, they are very much in the tradition of some Daoist or Zen Buddhist schools.




23 responses to “Daoist Talk (I) Supplement”

  1. Edith avatar

    Eine Hand klatscht sich zum Glück.
    In Stille. Ins Nichts.

    Für mich hält dein Beitrag noch viele Überlegungen offen, da ich mich mit solchem Thema noch nicht beschäftigt habe. Danke fürs Nachdenken müssen.
    Liebe Grüße von mir zu dir ❤

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Danke vielmals! Mancher geht durch den Wald und empfindet ihn still. Ein anderer erfreut sich im selben Wald der vielen zarten Töne.
      Das scheint mir ein guter Ansatzpunkt für Überlegungen zu dem Thema zu sein.
      Wir können nur erfahren, was wir in uns angelegt und kultiviert haben.
      Manche halten Stille nicht aus. Daher bieten z.B. manche Grossgeschäfte selbst Musik am Häusl.

      1. Edith avatar

        Ich dachte dabei an unsere Ranch (so nennen wir unseren riesengroßen Garten, teils parkähnlich angelegt mit vielen Fichten und Kiefern) und manchmal höre ich meine kleine Buche flüstern…
        Also lag ich mit meinen Überlegungen gar nicht so daneben… toll, was dabei raus kommt an Gedanken….

      2. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

        Das freut mich: Du bringst es auf den Punkt. Und wenn man man schon die kleine Buche fluestern hoeren kann, ist der Rest auch nicht mehr so schwer 🙂 🙂

      3. Edith avatar

        😀 😉 ❤

  2. The Golden Tears avatar

    Nice painting, I noticed in the video he mentioned wine but it’s actually vinegar to do with the different perceptions of life. Hence the 3 vinegar tasters.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you! Yes, you are right! Again a good example how words can shape our understanding and how misleading they can be.

  3. The Sicilian Storyteller avatar

    If there is such a course on WP, sign me up! Excellent post and interesting read. As an aside, I believe The Sound of One Hand Clapping has become a common phrase used by and about stroke victims.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you! I have already marked you for the WP course 🙂 You’re right about stroke victims – I didn’t realize until now that it was used in the area of motor skills. I know there was a film called that, a drama film directed by Richard Flanagan. But that’s definitely about something else.

  4. Graham Stephen avatar



    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you!

  5. Martha Kennedy avatar

    I enjoyed the video very much. It made me miss LACMA. What a wonderful place that is. But I’m here with my one hand clapping. 😉

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Happy clapping 😎👍

  6. M avatar

    Polls never work in Reader, but it works at your actual blog

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! This I did not know. It looked ok in preview…..

      1. M avatar

        Anytime man. If you post a poll again just add a note to tell people to go to your blog to do the poll.

  7. swabby429 avatar

    This type of crazy wisdom is fascinating to no end.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Isn’t it? On the one hand, that’s fine, because I’ll be busy with it until the end of my life, but on the other hand, there’s also the danger that some psychotherapist will contact me soon if I continue like this:)

      1. swabby429 avatar

        Ha, I know what you mean.

  8. Auden James avatar

    Great article, hinting at the fundamental differences between Eastern and Western thought.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you!

  9. stolzyblog avatar

    Interesting mini-talk on Hakuin’s art. I love the rapidly executed spiritual portraits of certain figures. What a thing to think upon: that transition from focused contemplation to the sudden deed of artistic expression. I think haiku is sometimes arrived at in this manner.

    1. Zettl Fine Arts avatar

      Thank you very much! Yes, haiku is quite comparable. In both cases, the superfluous is dispensed with and only the “essence” is brought into play. What is not said is then the poetry.

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