Is the world real, unreal, both or neither? — Acharya Prashant on Zen Koan

Acharya Prashant
5 min readMay 13, 2020

Following is an excerpt from a samvaad (dialogue) session with Acharya Prashant.


Shuzan held out his short staff and said,

“If you call this short staff, you oppose its reality.”

“If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact.”

“Now what do you wish to call this?”

Questioner: Acharya Ji, please help understand this Zen Koan.

Acharya Prashant: (Referring to the Zen Koan) You have to call it both.

You see, you are living as the bodied one, that identification does exist for you. Just as your material body is a fact, you cannot ignore the fact of the short staff — a short staff that a monk carries. So you cannot say, “No, this is not a short staff.” It is.

You have to respect the fact. But you cannot stop at the fact. It is a short staff only with respect to your body. How do you know that it is short? Would a little ant call it ‘short’? Would a little insect call it ‘short’?

If you were not the body, would the staff even exist for you? It exists only in the same dimension as the brain. It is the brain that comprehends the material reality of the object.

Will any software work without it’s compiler? Here is the compiler. The compiler and the software go together. The staff does not exist at all, if the brain were not configured in the way it is. So even as you accept the fact that it is a staff, you also know that it is a staff, only with respect to ‘me’.

If I keep saying, “It is a staff, it is a staff, it is a staff,” what does that amount to? It amounts to constantly saying, “I am the body, I am the body, I am the body,” because it is a staff only with respect to your body.

Therefore, those who get stuck at the level of the fact, are actually getting stuck at the level of the body. That’s the problem with Science.

(Pointing at the handkerchief in the hand) It keeps saying, “This exists, this exists, this…