Thursday, December 15, 2005

Zen Christmas

The Korean word k'al means "knife" or "sword." In Asian symbolism, especially in India but also in East Asia, the sword indicates the cutting-off of ignorance which, in the Buddhist reckoning, is the root of human suffering.

With that in mind, take a look at the following, in which a Christian saint wields his ignorance-severing k'al:

The image may be more Korean than its makers intended: people who've spent enough time in Korea will quickly recognize the type of glove in Santa's left hand: it's the white fabric workman's glove covered with painted-on red rubber, often used for gaining traction while moving large, heavy objects that have smooth, hard-to-grip surfaces.

The king replied, "This woman says, 'This is my son who is alive, and your son is dead,' but that woman says, 'No, your son is dead, and my son is alive.' " The king continued, "Bring me a sword." So they brought the sword to the king. Solomon said, "Cut the living boy in two and give half to one and half to the other."

The woman whose son was alive spoke to the king because she felt great compassion for her son. "My lord, give her the living baby," she said, "but please don't have him killed!"

But the other one said, "He will not be mine or yours. Cut him in two!"

The king responded, "Give the living baby to the first woman, and don't kill him. She is his mother." All Israel heard about the judgment the king had given, and they stood in awe of the king because they saw that God's wisdom was in him to carry out justice. (1 Kgs 3:23-28)


Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls were quarrelling about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said, "You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will spare the cat. If you can't say anything, I will put it to the sword." No one could answer, so Nansen finally slew it. In the evening, when Joshu returned, Nansen told him what had happened. Joshu, thereupon, took off his sandals, put them on his head and walked off. Nansen said, "If you had been there, I could have spared the cat." (Mumun-gan)

Merry Christmas.



  1. That's exactly the sort of image that really intrigues me, because I'm fascinated by comparative religious iconography. May I ask where you took this photograph?

  2. I should have given credit for it: I saw it on an online news article. The Santa stands in front of a mansion in one of the richer sections of New York City.




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