A Zen ko’han is a question with no possible rational answer that the Teacher uses to break the structures of the disciple’s mind.

In this one


you are pursued by a tiger and reach a big tree at a precipice’s edge;

one of its roots goes down into it and by descending

down it the tiger can’t catch you.


However you can neither go up nor let yourself fall, and at the precipice’s bottom another tiger is hungrily waiting for you.

At this point a white and a black mouse begin to gnaw at the root you are holding to.

The ko’han question is:


What will you DO?


All rational answers like calling the helicopter with your mobile, praying, trying to see the Divine in the tiger so that it won’t eat you, talk to the tiger, etc, will just earn you thirty blows of the Zen Master’s staff on your unenlightened back!


A famous Zen Master put the wrong answer to this ko’han in his book to see who would fall for it:


While hanging there I see a wild strawberry on the precipice’s wall,

hold to the root with my left hand, grab it with my right

and eat it, and so good it is!


But eating the silly strawberry, that’s what almost everyone is always doing: the strawberry of entertainment, sex, food, and intellectual pursuits, whatever; that’s no answer at all.




– The tiger on top

represents the birth of your physical body – you can never return to that warm, comfortable cave in your mother’s belly.


– The tiger at the bottom

represents death – not your death but the one of your physical body.


– The root you are holding to

is what the occultists call the “silver cord” connecting our soul to our body when we travel in the Astral.


– The white and black mice

represent Chronos, the all devouring Time, the days and nights of our life slowly running out.


What will you do?


It is essential to realize that this isn’t just a clever metaphor:




between your body’s birth and death until your arms get too tired

to hold you, so what will you do?


The answer which spontaneously, almost immediately came to Vijay when he was presented with this ko’han was:


What a stupid dream I had! No, I won’t fall for it…



But please find your very own.

Interestingly, there is a similar traditional Sufi story in which a man, also chased by tiger tried to escape it by descending down the root of a tree above a precipice:

To his horror he saw that two rats where chewing the root that he was attached to and cried out: “Lord, save me!”

And heard Him reply:


“Of course I will save you…but first

let go of that root!”


To which “root”, or roots are you still hanging to?

Don’t you trust the Lord?




Somehow my body is there still, holding to that root;

of strawberries more than my fill I already had;

hungry tigers and gnawing mice only in the mind abide

so nowadays I just enjoy the view, and talk to you.

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