Koan from Tang Dynasty Story: Chien and her soul have separated. Which is the true Chien? 

This a beautiful long, ghostly story.  It gives me goosebumps still. The short version is this:

Two children, a girl Chien, and an adopted distant relation of the same age, a boy named Wangchou were raised together by Chien’s widowed father, Changkien. The two children played, worked and lived together. They were natural companions and loved each other. One day Changkien joked that they were so suited they should marry someday. The two children took this to heart and in fact assumed they were betrothed.

When one day Changkien told Chien that he had made a marriage contract for her with an older trader, they were stunned. Wangchou was so distraught and angry that he packed his belongings and readied a canoe to leave that night. As he was about to push off Chien came to join him and they ran away together to a happy life, in which they had several children. They talked about returning to receive her father’s blessing and find forgiveness for their rash action in leaving.

When they arrived Wangchou left Chien in the boat so he could see if the old man would receive them. Changkien embraced him with love and exclaimed how he had missed him. ‘So you forgive us?’ asked Wangchou. ‘What do you mean, Us?’ asked the old man confused. ‘Chien and I for running away so long ago.’ ‘But my son Chien has never left – she is here in her bed in a coma since that very day.’

Just then the two men noticed Chien running toward them from the boat with her arms outstretched, she passed them to their surprise. Then coming toward her from the house they saw the other Chien, pale in her white nightgown also running. The two met and inexplicably joined as one woman.

The teacher Wuzu who recounted this story then asked: Who is the real Chien?

And indeed I might ask myself that same question – you might also. There is a lot to allow in and to meditate on here. I will have a koan report. And will print out the story for all of you. Come and sit with the two Chiens and me.

Print – © Harriet Lee Marrion

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