Zen Koan 5: “If You Love, Love Openly”

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Zen Koans seem like paradoxes at first. The reason is that Koans are not meant to be understood by the intellect, but by intuition. Pondering over these riddles can help us unravel greater truths about our world and ourselves. This breakdown isn’t meant to substitute the insight the Koans are meant to invoke, but merely aid in getting there.

From “101 Zen Koans”:

” Twenty monks and one nun, who was named Eshun, were practicing meditation with a certain Zen master.

Eshun was very pretty even though her head was shaved and her dress plain. Several monks secretly fell in love with her. One of them wrote her a love letter, insisting upon a private meeting.

Eshun did not reply. The following day the master gave a lecture to the group, and when it was over, Eshun arose. Addressing the one who had written to her, she said: “If you really love me so much, come and embrace me now.” “

The Breakdown

Zen practice teaches us to eventually realize the inherent emptiness of self and things. It is necessary to remove all attachments to realize their meaninglessness. Eshun’s secret admirer was attached to her outer beauty and thus he confused his sexual desire with true love.

To expose the monk’s skewed view of love, Eshun chose to expose him to the group and demanded that he demonstrate his love for Eshun by embracing her openly. This does two things. It first shows that the monk had deviated from the path by being consumed by desire instead of attempting to detatch himself from it. Second, it reveals the meaninglessness of words that are not backed by action.

Eshun knew that the monks were required to abstain from pursuing desire and therefore knew that the admirer would not openly embrace her. Had he been a true lover, he would not allow himself or Eshun to be distracted from their pursuit of enlightenment, as loving another person involves supporting their individual growth.


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