The sound of one hand clapping
by Ken Wilber
You know the Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Usually, of course, we need two hands to clap—and that is the structure of typical experience. We have a sense of ourselves as a subject in here, and the world as an object out there. We have these “two hands” of experience, the subject and the object. And typical experience is a smashing of these two hands together to make a commotion, a sound. The object out there smashes into me as a subject, and I have an experience—the two hands clap together, an experience emerges.
And so the typical structure of experience is like a punch in the face. The ordinary self is the battered self—it is utterly battered by the universe “out there.” The ordinary self is a series of bruises, of scars, the results of these two hands of experience smashing together. This bruising is called duhkha, suffering. As Krishmamurti used to say, in that gap between the subject and the object lies the entire misery of humankind.
But with the nondual state, suddenly there are not two hands. Suddenly, the subject and the object are one hand. Suddenly, there is nothing outside of you to smash into you, bruise you, torment you.
Suddenly, you do not have an experience, you are every experience that arises, and so you are instantly released into all space: you and the entire Kosmos are one hand, one experience, one display, one gesture of great Perfection. There is nothing outside of you that you can want, or desire, or seek, or grasp—your soul expands to the corners of the universe and embraces all with infinite delight. You are utterly full, utterly saturated, so full and saturated that the boundaries to the Kosmos completely explode and leave you without date or duration, time or location, awash in an ocean of infinite care. You are released into the All, as the All—you are the self-seen radiant Kosmos, you are the universe of One Taste, and the taste is utterly infinite.
So what is the sound of that one hand clapping? What is the taste of that One Taste? When there is nothing outside of you that can hit you, hurt you, push you, pull you—what is the sound of that one hand clapping?
See the sunlight on the mountains? Feel the cool breeze? What is not utterly obvious? Who is not already enlightened? As a Zen master put it, “When I heard the sound of the bell ringing, there was no I and no bell, just the ringing.” There is no twiceness, no twoness, in immediate experience! No inside and no outside, no subject and no object—just immediate awareness itself, the sound of one hand clapping.
So you are not in here, on this side of a transparent window, looking at the Kosmos out there. The transparent window has shattered, your body mind drops, you are free of that confinement forever, you are no longer “behind your face” looking at the Kosmos—you simply are the Kosmos. You are all that. Which is precisely why you can swallow the Kosmos and span the centuries, and nothing moves at all. The sound of this one hand clapping is the sound the Big Bang made. It is the sound of supernovas exploding in space. It is the sound of the robin singing. It is the sound of a waterfall on a crystal-clear day. it is the sound of the entire manifest universe—and you are that sound.
Which is why your original face is not in here. It is the sheerest Emptiness or transparency of this shimmering display. If the Kosmos is arising, you are that. If nothing arises, you are that. In either case, you are that. In either case, you are not in here. The window has shattered. The gap between the subject and object is gone. There is no twiceness, no twoness, to be found anywhere—the world is never given to youtwice, but always only once—and you are that. You are that One Taste.
This state is not something you can bring about. This nondual state, this state of One Taste, is the very nature of every experience before you slice it up. This One Taste is not some experience you bring about through effort; rather, it is the actual condition of all experience before you do anything to it. This uncontrived state is prior to effort, prior to grasping, prior to avoiding. It is the real world before you do anything to it, including the effort to “see it nondually.”
So you don’t have to do something special to awareness or to experience in order to make it nondual. It starts out nondual, its very nature is nondual—prior to any grasping, any effort, any contrivance. If effort arises, fine; if effort doesn’t arise, fine; in either case, there is only the immediacy of One Taste, prior to effort and non-effort alike.
So this is definitely not a state that is hard to get into, but rather one that is impossible to avoid. It has always been so. There has never been a moment when you did not experience One Taste—it is the only constant in the entire Kosmos, it is the only reality in all of reality. In a million billion years, there has never been a single second that you weren’t aware of this Taste; there has never been a single second where it wasn’t directly in your Original Face like a blast of arctic air.
Of course, we have often lied to ourselves about this, we have often been untruthful about this, the universe of One Taste, the primordial sound of one hand clapping, our own Original Face. And the nondual traditions aim, not to bring about this state, because that is impossible, but simply to point it out to you so that you can no longer ignore it, no longer lie to yourself about who you really are.