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Thread: On Koans

  1. #1

    On Koans

    Hi there,

    I a while back when I was studying with a Rinzai zendo, the abbot gave me the usual koan "What was your original face before your parents were born". During my sit today it popped into my head and have come to this. My original face before my parents were born is the same face I have now, Sun-Faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha. Non-duality......

    Am I on the right track?
    Gassho,
    Onken

  2. #2
    disastermouse
    Guest
    LOL. "The Fire God begs for fire" indeed.

  3. #3

  4. #4
    I'm no teacher, but let me share some thoughts.

    I don't think anyone can tell if you're on the right track or not from this post, but since almost every Koan is about non-duality in some form, sure!

    In the Rinzai sect there are some established 'correct' answers, but also control question to check that you really got the point. I guess there is one for this particular one too. But this type of koan (who am I?) really doesn't have an answer in my opinion. In the end, you have to accept that you don't know. I also know from personal experience that this kind of koan practice can cause a lot of suffering when you are stubborn and don't have a teacher to guide you. To struggle day and night with a question for an extended period of time can give you some insight into how your minds works and how you create your own suffering, but at some point, someone has to help you to put it down if you can't do it on your own.

    So I would either go back to the Rinzai teacher and present your answer, or if you are going to practice Soto style, give it a rest, be patient and let Zazen answer it in time. But don't try to use Zazen to answer it.

    Gassho,
    Pontus
    In a spring outside time, flowers bloom on a withered tree;
    you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
    now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
    the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day

  5. #5
    Is the face you had as a child the same face you have now? how about in fifty years? Same? Different?

    The Rinzai sect, or at least the Rinzai teacher I had once would probably say, "too many words...Sow me this face..." but like what was stated, if you want to have your answer check go seek out a rinzai teacher.

    In soto, I wouldn't say give it a rest so to speak, but more like just allow it to be. If in sitting, Koan appears, koan appears. Answer appears, answer appears. Don't hold on.

    Thoughts come, thoughts go. Sadness, happiness, so much stuff pops in, and its so easy to allow ourselves to get sweep away by it all.

    Don't hold, don't push away, just be and allow.

    In that, how is that any different from your original face....

    Humbly,

    Seiryu
    Humbly,
    Seiryu

  6. #6
    I am just a beginner and I have never studied the Rinzai tradition, so take my words with that in mind.

    Saying the words and knowing a truth can be two different things. Once you know a truth, you cannot be dissuaded of it. If I tell you the sky is always green, there is no need to doubt your answer when you tell me "no, it isn't. It's blue," because you know that truth. Once real truth is discovered, it seems so obvious and natural that you can not fathom the acceptance of another answer without it feeling like a lie.

    Does your answer to this koan feel like such a truth? If so, why ask anyone else if it is true because you already know inside if it is true or not. If you do not believe without a doubt that it is true, then you are seeking words and not truth.
    gassho
    -Lou

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Seiryu View Post
    In soto, I wouldn't say give it a rest so to speak, but more like just allow it to be. If in sitting, Koan appears, koan appears. Answer appears, answer appears. Don't hold on.
    Yes!
    Allow the question to be!
    I didn't mean to imply that you should forget about it. Just that you don't have to keep it in mind every hour, every day. Let it be. Live it. Good luck!

    /Pontus
    In a spring outside time, flowers bloom on a withered tree;
    you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
    now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
    the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by Onken View Post
    Hi there,

    I a while back when I was studying with a Rinzai zendo, the abbot gave me the usual koan "What was your original face before your parents were born". During my sit today it popped into my head and have come to this. My original face before my parents were born is the same face I have now, Sun-Faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha. Non-duality......

    Am I on the right track?
    Hi Onken,

    I am certainly no Rinzai master, but the answer sounds too intellectual to me (but of course I may be wrong here). The answer doesn't need to be a verbal one. Even if somebody tells you his/her answer that was accepted by the master, it could be possible that the same answer would not be accepted if you said it.
    As mr. Lou said it: "Saying the words and knowing a truth can be two different things."
    So I guess the Rinzai master that gave you the koan would be the best one to ask...


    Gassho,

    Timo

  9. #9
    So much collective Wisdom in this Sangha.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    #SAT TODAY!

  10. #10
    Friend of Treeleaf Myozan Kodo's Avatar
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    Hi Onken,
    This is a great thread indeed.

    Glad you didn't ask me the original face question. I can't even shave my face without cutting myself!

    A cut the size of all the universe, past, present and future.

    Gassho,
    Myozan
    Myozan Kodo
    Ordained Soto Zen Priest in Training
    Dublin, Ireland

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.
    "Here the way unfolds."

  11. #11
    Hello Onken,

    the teacher student relationship is vital to answering Koans the "right" way (it's just as vital for answering them the "wrong"way). I've never undertaken Rinzai Koan training but have met teachers who did master their school's respective curriculum. Whatever answers you might come up with can be all great and right and meaningful to you, but the set and setting of the teacher dialogue creates a unique cocoon pregnant with meaning. If you score a goal in a lonely soccer stadium, with only you present....that's all nice and well, but the whole idea of the rinzai process has to do with you struggling towards the goal with a goal keeper and other players present to give you a challenge. It's not so much the answer alone but HOW you present that answer...the teacher needs to see how you can dynamically express those words of yours....to see whether they come from the innermost marrow of your understanding or just from your intellectual mind. The word "non-dualism" is just another word.

    So as much as I'd like to help you with this one, that is impossible. You should really take it to your teacher and work with him.

    I'll let my favourite Koan expert Terry Pratchett have the last word on Koans:

    "
    One of the recurring philosophical questions is:
    "Does a falling tree in a forest make a sound when there is no one to hear?"

    Which says something about the nature of philosophers, because there is always someone in a forest. It may only be a badger, wondering what that cracking noise was, or a squirrel a bit puzzled by all the scenery going upwards, but someone. "

    - from Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett



    Gassho,


    Hans Chudo Mongen
    Chudo Mongen, Ordained Novice Priest-in-Training

  12. #12
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    The face we had is the same face the stone in the river has.

    Timeless and slowly being reduced to get back to the earth.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  13. #13
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Funny Kyonin...i humbly bow to your first answer, the second one is just extra.

    Gassho


    Taigu
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    The face we had is the same face the stone in the river has.

    Timeless and slowly being reduced to get back to the earth.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Nice, thanks Kyōnin. <-- my smile of the past, present, and future.

    Gassho
    Michael
    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  15. #15
    Thanks everyone.
    Gassho,
    Onken

  16. #16
    Senior Member Nengyo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kyonin View Post
    The face we had is the same face the stone in the river has.

    Timeless and slowly being reduced to get back to the earth.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Damn it, I thought the answer was "Mu!" I really need to do better meditation!
    Try not to be a jerk-- one of the Buddhas

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