Burn your books (no, don’t)

I drew another zen koan card today, and then drew a few from the Arcana deck (from Dead on Paper) for commentary.

Koan: “I burn the books in my bag. But the verses written in my guts cannot be forgotten.”

Cards: Emperor, 5 of Diamonds, 10 of Diamonds. Extra: 7 of Hearts.

I think the koan can be about formal versus natural education, and about moving away from outside influence and developing your own voice and personal knowledge. The narrator burns books (after having learned the verses from them), and finds that the knowledge remains.

However, it isn’t intellectual knowledge. It is found in verses, which suggest poetry, and they are in the gut rather than the head. This suggests the idea that formal (i.e., book-) learning can only take you so far. After that, it’s better to forgo the books and continue  moving forward by identifying what stays in your gut and what you can’t help but remember.

The koan also makes me think of the how students eventually have to leave a school or teacher (or in this case, books). You have to leave the influence of others behind and continue learning in your way, applying or absorbing knowledge through visceral rather than intellectual experience.

I’m sure there are many other interpretations of the koan. Those two came to mind today. I’m reading the concept of book-burning metaphorically. The notion of doing that in real life is abhorrent to me.

As for the cards, I see the emperor as the speaker of the koan. In this deck and position, he seems to be reflecting on the 5 and 10 of diamonds. They lie ahead of him. A warm situation that expands quickly and to completion. He burns his books, which completes his thoughts and brings a sense of magic or mysticism to his heart.

I’m seeing the movement from 5 to 10 as being a quick one, with the 5 also connecting with the “gut” in the koan (fives make me think of the body) and the 10 being the end of the line (which starts as one and ends at ten). I’m seeing the 7 here are representing a mytical or spiritual component (I’m thinking of sevens generally in popular culture). The 7 could also represent an increase (from the 5) and further warmth in the direction of the narrator’s emotions as a result of becoming freed from his books or formal teachings.

Traditionally, I think tarot folks associate the suit of clubs/wands with fire and spades/swords with thoughts (among other things). I can see the reasons for those associations, but I can also see reasons for other ones. For instance, diamonds connect with the idea of clarity and sharpness, which to me suggests thoughts. Diamonds form in the ground and under high pressure–coins are forged, and you keep them in your hands or on your body. Both of those ideas can also connect this suit with warmth and fire.

On a side note, the emperor in this deck looks like Philip K. Dick, and the 7 reminds me of that number’s meaning (one of them, anyway–there are others) in Chinese numerology as a vulgar or slang word. It’s a dickish koan, in some respects: burning books would be a dickhead move.


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