In sanghas following the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, to show appreciation one does not clap, instead one flaps his/her hands. This silent visual applause is similar to the sign for applauds in American, British, French and possibly other sign languages used by deaf persons.

Which other buddhist traditions also use silent visual applause to show appreciation? What is the origin of this way of showing appreciation in buddhism, was it borrowed from a sign language, and if so where and when?

  • 2
    I belong to one of Thich Nhat Hahn's Plum Village sangha as well as Thich Nhat Hahn's Wake Up sangha. We do silently show applause like you mentioned above. However I do not know the origin, I just do it because it is fun and it makes me and others smile. I also like that it does not cause an increase is sudden noise, like clapping does, if a teacher is talking quietly or after a pleasant song is played/sung.
    – Thien
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 20:26
  • The Sound of One Hand = quiet sound" (Soundless Sound)
    – iCrazybest
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 10:24

3 Answers 3


This video says that it's widespread among French and German university students, ecologists, especially left-wing, for example at political assemblies and unions. And it says that an internet search shows that it's part of the "language of signs" but that no-one knows which country it began in.

The page Monks and nuns from the Thich Nhat Hanh collective, in Plum Village, France, pay our school a special visit suggest that Thich Nhat Hahn are:

  • From France
  • Teaching 'silent applause'
  • Teaching 'ecologist' songs such as "I love nature"

So perhaps they adopted the gesture from that milieu (or vice versa): i.e. from European students and young ecologists.

  • I had no idea the visual applause was also used in such political contexts, especially as usually political meetings tend to be noisy! As for Thich Nhat Hahn, he is a vietnamese buddhist monk living in exile in France in Plum Village. (Unfortunately he is currently unwell and in hospital.)
    – Panda
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 16:41
  • I can't edit my earlier comment. I made a typo in Thich Nhat Hanh's name. His biog can be found on the Plum Village's website.
    – Panda
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 20:23
  • That's OK. When I said that "Thich Nhat Hanh are from France" I meant, "the Thich Nhat Hanh collective" as they were referred to in the title of that news item, i.e. Plum Village.
    – ChrisW
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 20:27

The Sound of One Hand = "quiet sound" (Soundless Sound - Emptiness)

At some point, completely quiet heart that does not even sound that can make us being distracted. Ears are hearing is still heard, but absolutely not disturbed mind. It is "beyond" all sound.

That is, in silence we "hear", "see", "understands" or "enlightenment" is many things, but when the mind is being distracted because of the "noise" we do not hear, do not see, do not understand.

The Sound of One Hand (101 storie Zen -Nyogen Senzaki)

The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai, Silent Thunder. He had a little protégé named Toyo who was only twelve years old. Toyo saw the older disciples visit the master’s room each morning and evening to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidence in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering. Toyo wished to do sanzen also.

“Wait a while,” said Mokurai. “You are too young.”

But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.

In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai’s sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.

“You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together,” said Mokurai. “Now show me the sound of one hand.”

Toyo bowed and went to his room to consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. “Ah, I have it!” he proclaimed.

The next evening, when his teacher asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play the music of the geishas.

“No, no,” said Mokurai. “That will never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You’ve not got it at all.”

Thinking that such music might interrupt, Toyo moved his abode to a quiet place. He meditated again. “What can the sound of one hand be?” He happened to hear some water dripping. “I have it,” imagined Toyo.

When he next appeared before his teacher, he imitated dripping water. “What is that?” asked Mokurai. “That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again.”

In vain Toyo meditated to hear the sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound was rejected.

He heard the cry of an owl. This was also refused.

The sound of one hand was not the locusts.

For more than ten times Toyo visited Mokurai with different sounds. All were wrong. For almost a year he pondered what the sound of one hand might be.

At last Toyo entered true meditation and transcended all sounds. “I could collect no more,” he explained later, “so I reached the soundless sound.” Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.

  • 2
    @ThanPhong, this is a wonderful koan, but is it directly related to the visual applause? If it was, I would expect all Zen buddhist traditions to use the visual applause instead of clapping. As far as I understand Korean zen buddhists do applaud noisily. This is in part why I asked which buddhist traditions use the visual applause.
    – Panda
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 16:31
  • @iCrazybest - I suspect that most readers of this "one-hand-clapping" story appreciate it because they are supposed to appreciate something that is so deep that they cannot grasp its meaning. Also, I suspect that this "sound of one hand clapping' really has no specific meaning, which lets the reader conjure whatever "deep" meaning he likes, and then say to himself, "Oooooo, now THAT is zen wisdom!" Commented Sep 11, 2015 at 20:28

Well there is a link to a book of etiquette that says "Hindu hosts are ..... waving fingers." www.read-write-now.org/UserDir/Documents/Cultural%20Etiquette.pdf

A Chinese tradition for shaking hands involves waving hands up and down https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=7&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0CEkQFjAG&url=http%3A%2F%2Fpeople.wku.edu%2Fhaiwang.yuan%2FChina%2Fdocs%2Fchinesecultureandcustoms.rtf&ei=9RxkVIb1JOmJsQTUzYD4DQ&usg=AFQjCNGd2Lid0ya_JeNnvRfMeNPpg7Xu8w&bvm=bv.79189006,d.cWc

The traditional Chinese ‘handshake’ consists of interlocking the fingers of the hands and waving them up and down several times. This is today rarely used (except during festivals, weddings and birthdays of the elderly), and the western style handshake is ubiquitous among all but the very old or traditional.

Of course whenever you talk about clapping and Buddhism you get the sound of one hand clapping, a traditional koan.

I replied to hopefully get some discussion going on this interesting topic. Unfortunately my googling has not show me much more. Thank you for the question.

  • 1
    thank you very much for this additional information, however it seems to to be about different practices. Your first link does not include your partial quote (searching for either 'Hindu hosts' or 'waving' does not show anything relevant), and you do not give the occasion for this gesture. The traditional Chinese handshake appears to be a different gesture as the fingers are interlocked and not used as a form of appreciation. So although very interesting, I don't think this addresses my question.
    – Panda
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 14:06

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