Case 14 of the Mumonkan Nansen Cuts the Cat in Two
Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a
cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: "If any of you say a good
word, you can save the cat."
No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.
That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu
removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.
Nansen said: "If you had been there, you could have saved the cat."
Mumon's comment: Why did Joshu put his sandals on his head? If anyone
answers this question, he will understand exactly how Nansen enforced
the edict. If not, he should watch his own head.
Had Joshu been there,
He would have enforced the edict oppositely.
Joshu snatches the sword
And Nansen begs for his life.
A friend of mine is a Catholic priest. Every Easter, I send him this koan. I don't think there's a better example of two religions expressing identical, deep and transcendental truth than when the story of Christ's crucifixion is juxtaposed with the theme of this koan.
This is a koan about sacrifice. It's about making an offering of oneself. The cat knows what's coming. He's in on the hit and he happily throws himself on the sword. Christ also knew that his time of reckoning had come. Though racked with doubt, he courageously goes to the cross to die.
We don't always offer ourselves bodily. While we must always be willing to die on the cushion, our mundane life offers us millions of way to perish everyday. If kindness is hard, that is your sacrifice. If sitting is hard, that is your sacrifice. If calling your mother is hard, that is your sacrifice. Everything hard is an offering. Everything that requires effort is the threat of the sword.
Practice means that we can't stay remain dumbstruck with silence. Practice means that we can't let thoughts of self preservation stand between us and the way. Practice means that we act the fool, put our sandals on our head, and let ourselves be cut in two. You are the cat. Trust what comes next.
Spark Notes version: Sitting ain't gonna kill you, dude. You're standing in your own way. Pitter patter let's get at 'er!