David Madore's WebLog: A very Quineian 公案

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A very Quineian 公案

[I have told this story many times before, but never, I think, on this Web site. Besides, I never seem to get too much of it. So here goes—]

Nan Wen was a disciple of the Way. One day, he decided to embark on a long and difficult pilgrimage to seek the wisdom of Master Gro-Tsen, an adept of great renown. Nan Wen knew that the Enlightened's word was precious, and he wanted to ask the right question, not that of a fool: “The travel,” he said upon leaving, “is as much a journey of the mind as one of the body, and only in the right state of mind can Gro-Tsen's wisdom be found.”

For seven times seven days, Nan Wen rode, until he finally reached the dwelling of the Master; and during all those days, he considered many questions that he might ask, but none satisfied him. “Wisdom,” he thought, “is as much about asking the right question as about getting the right answer!”—and at that point he knew what he would ask of the wise.

So when he stood before Gro-Tsen, Nan Wen spoke as follows: “Master,” he said, “I have come a long way to hear your wisdom, and I would make the best of this hearing by asking the right question. So pray tell me, that I might profit from your time at its fullest: what is the ultimate question in the Universe, and what is its answer?”

Gro-Tsen smiled and replied:
“The ultimate question in the Universe is, ‘what is the ultimate question in the Universe, and what is its answer?’—and its answer is that which I have just given.”

Comment: At that moment, Nan Wen knew how impossibly difficult and ridiculously easy it was to be Enlightened. And so he was.
Now be quick to answer: which fooled the other, the Master or the disciple?

A fool will walk where wise men fear to tread;
When your own sanity hangs by a thread,
 But answer and you die—but question, fail;
The answer lies here waiting to be read.

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