It's my first time in the Philosophy section of Stack Exchange. Since I am a non-native speaker, normally I ask questions in English Language Learners. However, I thought this one was in the field of philosophy, rather than language. So here I am.

My question is a quote from God is not Great by Christopher Hitchens.

... on the whole, the instruction was innocuous. Or it would have been, if not for a sign at the entrance to the Bhagwan’s preaching-tent. This little sign never failed to irritate me. It read: “Shoes and minds must be left at the gate.” There was a pile of shoes and sandals next to it, and in my transcendent condition I could almost picture a heap of abandoned and empty mentalities to round out this literally mindless little motto. I even attempted a brief parody of a Zen koan: “What is the reflection of a mind discarded?

As I stated above, I am a non-native and not sure if I get the full meaning(s) of the word reflection in this context. It might mean "the sound of the thing thrown away", or "the deep thoughts on a matter" as well. As a result of failing to determine the appropriate meaning of the word reflection, I can't come up with a solid meaning of the whole sentence.

As Hitchens said, it is a koan. So (I think) it must be catchy and hint at something worth considering. Yet again, as Hitchens said, it is a parody of koan. So it may not mean anything so deep at all. However, if I know Hitchens' style, he certainly makes an important if slight point here. That is why I am not asking the question in ELL site but in here. I want to know the full meaning (if any) beyond the literal meaning of the sentence.

Long story short, I am confused in every aspect. I would greatly appreciate any kind of help.


Given that in your quote Hitchens himself says that this koan is only "attempted" and is a "brief parody," it seems unlikely that Hitchens spent long pondering his own sentence.

Given that this occurs in the context of thought, reflection here likely means contemplation of an idea. The joke comes in, of course, that contemplation requires thought, which requires a mind, which the irritating sign indicates should be left at the door.

I am not an expert in either Hitchens or Eastern thought, but I would mention that my own religious tradition finds the idea of abandoning one's mind at the door every bit as irritating as Hitchens finds it. As anyone who has read Augustine or Aquinas (for only two examples), reason is an important element to at least some religious traditions.

  • I think I get the meaning now. I agree with you on this, it's all about thought and contemplation. Now I'm sure of my understanding of the sentence. Thank you very much. – A.K. Jul 24 '15 at 6:04

I'm not sure that the sentence that Hitchens quotes is a Zen Koan; but a parody of one to express his irritation.

I'm no expert on Vedic philosophy, but perhaps the ninth couplet from the Isha Upanishad can throw some light on this little placard that so irritated him; the translation is by Yeats together with Swami Purohit:

Pin your faith to natural knowledge, stumble through the darkness of the blind

Pin your faith to supernatural faith, stumble through a darkness deeper still.

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