The Zen of Tiny Screws

The philosopher Alan Watts brought to my attention the idea that Zen koans (“koan” being translated as “case study”) were originally intended to be created anew, not recycled. The classic “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” was in reference to a proverb (“One hand won’t make a clap”) contemporary to the time the koan was devised. I believe I have a nice little Zen koan for you fellow DIY computer geeks out there.

Watts often gave examples of “acting without thinking”, or mushin — no-mind. One humorous example of a Zen master who gave the example to a group of an austere audience that one doesn’t schedule a fart in advance. Another describes a Zen student saddled with the task of creating perfect calligraphy while the Master hovers over his shoulder. None of his attempts suffice. The Master then excuses himself to use the bathroom, during which time the student quickly inks another before the Master’s return. When the Master does return, he deems that version to be perfect.

The other day I was doing some upgrades to my computer. Like any foolish DIY type, I hadn’t prepared an ideal work area. Of course I dropped one of those tiny screws, heard it hit the plastic chair mat, then off into the shag carpet it went.

After a frustrated five minutes of searching, with the requisite self-directed mental abuse for being an idiot despite knowing better, I resigned myself to the hard drive being mounted one screw shy.

Then, without thought, I glanced back down and my gaze was bulls-eyed on the nearly imperceptible screw — immediately.

While I didn’t enter Sartori, I did fully grasp what Watts wanted to get across, and I thought I’d contribute this little koan to the Zen wiki.

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