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What the Sounders could learn from the Zen of Bruce Arena

Ruminations on the art of Zen and why the Sounders may never win MLS Cup.

Buddhika Weerasinghe/Getty Images

These are dark times for the Galaxy. With just five points in five games, players are frustrated and fans are panicking. The Galaxy, who haven't lost a game in Carson since the beginning of last season, are suddenly beginning to look mortal, and no one is enjoying this more than Sounders fans. Sensing blood in the water, it is being projected over at Sounder at Heart that tomorrow will mark the end of the Galaxy dynasty and beginning of a dynasty of rave green.

But you know who isn't worried? Bruce Arena. In Zen Buddhism, masters use philosophical stories, statements and questions known as kōans to test their students in the principles of Zen by provoking great doubt. Earlier this week at training, Bruce Arena had the aura of a Zen master, completely unconcerned by the Galaxy's start and poor general form. Perhaps master Bruce is testing us and there is a lesson the Sounders could learn in his ways.

Perhaps the most famous kōan is the "Sound of One Hand" from Collection of Stone and Sand:

The master of Kennin temple was Mokurai, Silent Thunder. He had a little protege named Toyo who was only twelve years old. Toyo saw the older disciples visit the master's room each morning and evening to receive instruction in sanzen or personal guidance in which they were given koans to stop mind-wandering.

Toyo wished to do sanzen also.

"Wait a while," said Mokurai. "You are too young."

But the child insisted, so the teacher finally consented.

In the evening little Toyo went at the proper time to the threshold of Mokurai's sanzen room. He struck the gong to announce his presence, bowed respectfully three times outside the door, and went to sit before the master in respectful silence.

"You can hear the sound of two hands when they clap together," said Mokurai. "Now show me the sound of one hand."

What is the sound of a fan base desperate for a real trophy?

Toyo bowed and went to his room to consider this problem. From his window he could hear the music of the geishas. "Ah, I have it!" he proclaimed.

The next evening, when his teacher asked him to illustrate the sound of one hand, Toyo began to play the music of the geishas.

"No, no," said Mokurai. "That will never do. That is not the sound of one hand. You've not got it at all."

What is the sound of hot air?

Thinking that such music might interrupt, Toyo moved his abode to a quiet place. He meditated again. "What can the sound of one hand be?" He happened to hear some water dripping. "I have it," imagined Toyo.

When he next appeared before his teacher, Toyo imitated dripping water.

"What is that?" asked Mokurai. "That is the sound of dripping water, but not the sound of one hand. Try again."

What is the sound of a ball struck with no regard for humanity?

In vain Toyo meditated to hear the sound of one hand. He heard the sighing of the wind. But the sound was rejected.

He heard the cry of an owl. This also was refused.

The sound of one hand was not the locusts.

What is the sound of a tree falling in a forest with 46,000 fans in rave green on hand to hear?

For more than ten times Toyo visited Mokurai with different sounds. All were wrong. For almost a year he pondered what the sound of one hand might be.

The Sounders are much like Toyo. They see those further along the path to MLS enlightenment, and, undaunted by their MLS age, yearn to join the ranks of the masters. Since day one, the Sounders have had one great big noisy community who have been desperate to put their stamp on this league with a dynasty of their own.

Nos Audietis. Sounders fans will know the term well. It is the name of the Sounder at Heart podcast. The full motto of Sounder at Heart is Nos audietis in somniis. Nos audietis in altum. It's latin for, You will hear us in your sleep. You will hear us in the deep.

At last little Toyo entered true meditation and transcended all sounds. "I could collect no more," he explained later, "so I reached the soundless sound."

Toyo had realized the sound of one hand.

But hearing is the problem. If the Sounders truly want to be like us, they must first learn to get over their own noise. Only then will they be able to find the enlightened path.