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Thread: Koan Practice

  1. #1

    Koan Practice

    Koan practice is not emphasized in this Sangha, but they are still an interesting part of the Zen tradition. Even in the Soto tradition. The Record of Transmitting the Light, almost every line in the Shobogenzo, can be worked on, or seen as Koans. Yet, we do not work with koans in the traditional way, we work on them through "just sitting" Yet, even our practice of Shinkantaza, is a Koan. How does one seek a goal-less goal? How do we attain non-attainment? One moment of practice is one moment of enlightenment... :shock: Really? sitting in zazen, cursing and hating the world is a manifestation of the Buddha's love and compassion? :?: :?: ...

    The precepts are koans...how to do we practice them, how do we live them? What are they?

    Life itself is anything but a Koan. How do we see it?

    "Who am I?" "Who are you?" How can we begin to answer them?

    How do you deal with the everyday Koans of life?

    How do you deal with the Koans that Ango is throwing at us?

    How do you deal with yourself and the world?


    Here is a video on Koan that I found from Zen Teacher Dae Kwang
    [youtube] [/youtube]

  2. #2
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Koan Practice

    Ok, let me put it that way, Kodo Sawaki used to say were absolute rubbish, a loss of time, an empty comedy...I would not go that far. In fact, I am going to tell you what he meant: the greed to fathom, the appetite for high states and breakthrough, this is what can be found in koan practice with long low MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU ringing along. The sickness of the Rinzai lineage. The sickness of the Soto lineage is equally sickening, it has to do with a self happy jolly quiet way in which numbness is thought to be perfect Samadhi.

    What do I do with koans?
    Do I play with them? Nope!
    Do I try to crack them? Nope!
    Do I collect them? Nope!
    Do I see them as keys to the kingdom? Nope!
    Door to the treasure chest? Nope!

    Wake up!

    When you arise from sitting, everything turns into a living koan not a dead case you present trembling from head to foot in front of the would be big boss in Dokusan party!!!
    When you meet the real dragon koans are of themselves crystal clear and the water of rivers and pubbles turn instantly into koans.

    The question you should ask yourself is "where does this question of mine come from?"

    as to your questions ...

    The precepts are koans...how to do we practice them, how do we live them? What are they?

    Life itself is anything but a Koan. How do we see it?

    "Who am I?" "Who are you?" How can we begin to answer them?

    How do you deal with the everyday Koans of life?

    How do you deal with the Koans that Ango is throwing at us?

    How do you deal with yourself and the world?
    They are too wordy.

    We don't deal in Zen: we simply live.

    Wake up!


    gassho




    Taigu


    PS: How do you deal with yourself and the world? ...In your question how many are you? In how little minute elements are you going to break this whole reality? You-it-isness has no bound. Break it, and you are but counting a few grains of sand in the palm of your hand.

    Really? sitting in zazen, cursing and hating the world is a manifestation of the Buddha's love and compassion? ...
    time to see the culprit behing the Buddhuist rags and the nice philosopher. Time to see how deluded we all are instead of surfing Nirvana waves and turning old books filled with dusty stories! ( and this is also about myself, Seiryu).

    How many times shall I have to point to the living Genjokoan???

  3. #3

    Re: Koan Practice

    _/_

    It all boils down to..This moment...This experience...
    Not to deal with anything, but to live it, how easy it is to forget that distinction. How easy it is to think it even is a distinction.

    Allowing myself to get thrown around by the Bull is only difficult when I am expecting to control it in the future.

    What Bull?

    For me it becomes a question.."Who am I?" "what am I?" "Seiryu?" "Rafael?"

    To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.
    ahhh,

    time to have a cup of tea.


    Thank you for your response Taigu

  4. #4

    Re: Koan Practice

    Lovely what Taigu said!

    Quote Originally Posted by Seiryu
    Koan practice is not emphasized in this Sangha, but they are still an interesting part of the Zen tradition. Even in the Soto tradition. The Record of Transmitting the Light, almost every line in the Shobogenzo, can be worked on, or seen as Koans. Yet, we do not work with koans in the traditional way, we work on them through "just sitting"
    Who says that Koan practice is not emphasized in this Sangha? And Zen Teacher Dae Kwang is also quite mistaken when he says that Koans are not valued in Soto Zen!

    If one is talking about the old, 'classic' Koans ... "The Sound of One Hand Clapping" "Does a Dog have Buddha-Nature" and the like ... well, they have always had a cherished place in Soto Zen. Dogen's writings such as Shobogenzo are chock full of Koan stories that he is "riffing" on. Dogen is said to have transcribed a copy of the Blue Cliff Record, a famous collection of Koans, and to have had his own personal collection of Koan stories he valued which we now call the "Kana/Shinji-Shobogenzo" (Nishijima Roshi translated both the Shinji-Shobogenzo and the Shobogenzo into English).

    What may be confusing Dae Kwang, however, is the way we tend to look at and express the Koans in Soto Zen.

    First, that whole thing about the Koans being only understandable when we suspend all logical thinking, or any thinking at all, is koany-baloney! In fact, the old Koan stories are usually an expression of some aspects of Buddhist philosophy, teaching and perspectives that are quite 'logical' ... or better said, 'Buddha-logical' (meaning, for example, in Zen perspectives sometimes 1 + 1 = 1 = 7 and the like, :shock: not our normal ways of viewing things). However, there are vital aspects of the madness that can be quite clearly explained in words, other aspects that need to be felt and experienced. For that reason, Koans are actually quite similar to poems or songs. There are times to discuss or think about the meaning of a poem or song, times to just let the sound and feeling wash through us, times to sing along, times when there is no one right 'meaning' to the poem or song. In all cases, the classic Koans carry lessons and tastes of Wisdom and Compassion which are helpful to "grock"** and make our own.

    ** (Grock (from the Urban Dictionary) ... understand, appreciate actively and profoundly, fully comprehend; also, to think about, listen to, play, or contemplate something or someone with full love and understanding, even ecstacy ... To thoroughly understand something through the metaphorical process of drinking it in.)

    Next, in our Soto way, we realize that all of life is, not only each of the old "Classic Koans" realized, but 10,000,000 ever new Koans alive all around and through us each moment. This is what Dogen called the "Genjo Koan" ... the Great Koan manifesting always. Koans are not just old stories, but ever new and alive right now.

    Next, unlike the Rinzai folks, we do not hold Koans in mind during Zazen ... or anything else in mind during Zazen. Also, in Soto, there is generally no set series of Koans that must be "passed" as a curriculum. As Taigu said too, we do not wrap ourselves into the Koans with "the greed to fathom, the appetite for high states and breakthrough ... found in koan practice with long low MUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU ringing along". We experience how Zazen is all the Koans introspected, resolved and illuminated at once!

    (By the way, that is just a side issue, but the practice of holding Koans or phrases from Koans in mind during Zazen, and going to see one's teacher to present an "Answer" to a Koan in the Rinzai way, was a rather late development in Zen history. Shikantaza/Silent Illumination was the older and more mainstream Zen practice until that time. "Silent Illumination/Just Sitting" was the Soto practice in China at and around the time of Dogen, and the practice Dogen encouraged.)

    In other words, in our Soto Way, all of life-reality is the BIG KOAN, the "Genjo-Koan", the koan ever manifesting right before our eyes and our eyes too! Koans are manifesting in endless ways in life each moment.

    Taigu and I teach with Koans all the time! Often, we are speaking of "modern" Koans that are manifesting in our life or world now. However, often we refer to some classic Koan story. In fact, let me 'unofficially' announce that our next book in the book club will be a Koan collection:

    The Book of Serenity (Book of Equanimity), commentary by Shishin Wick.

    The Book of Serenity is a collection much prized in the Soto flavor of Zen. Shishin Wick is the current head of the White Plum Lineage, which usually mixes Kan'na (Koan Instrospection) Zen and Shikantaza approaches, but in this case, he takes each Koan with a gentle-not so gentle 'piercing in and out through the sacred core' Soto style. Shishin brings each Koan into living Practice and practical life, very much grounded in this day-to-day world, worlded in the Timeless Ground. Lovely.

    http://www.wisdompubs.org/pages/display ... n=&image=1

    The Book of Equanimity is as central to koan practice in the Soto Zen tradition as the better-known 'Blue Cliff Record' is in the Rinzai tradition. ... At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Shishin Wick gave a series of talks on each of the hundred cases to Zen students in Colorado, and now with this new publication he offers his commentary and translation to a wider audience. Shishin Wick was trained as a physicist and oceanographer, and his scientific background comes through in his rigorous examination of each case. His poetic sensibility is also evident in the book, such as in his commentary on 'Joshu's Dog,' which describes the noble futility of the bodhisattva vow, by using the image of someone attempting to fill up a well with snow. He draws upon examples ranging from the scholarly (comparisons with other koan collections) to the everyday (a friend's paralyzed dachshund) to show the importance of The Book of Equanimity in the Zen tradition and its relevance to the lives of his students and readers.
    Gassho, Jundo Cohen ... not Koan 8)

  5. #5

    Re: Koan Practice

    Thank you Jundo for your extensive answer. It is much appreciated.

  6. #6

    Re: Koan Practice

    Thank you for this direct response!

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    The sickness of the Soto lineage is equally sickening, it has to do with a self happy jolly quiet way in which numbness is thought to be perfect Samadhi.
    How so?

    The question you should ask yourself is "where does this question of mine come from?"
    Isn't that mu?

    Break it, and you are but counting a few grains of sand in the palm of your hand.
    Endless grains, endless atoms... very true


    How many times shall I have to point to the living Genjokoan???
    Over and over and over, forever and ever. But please don't stop! We are silly thinking animals, so easily trapped in intellectual mazes. We need someone to cut through the hedgerow and yell at us

    Reminds me of a story recently told by Hyon Gak Sunim, a Korean Son (Zen) teacher. After a lecture by the ven. Seung Sahn Sunim, Hyon Gak asked, "teacher, these teachings on suffering, on emptiness and attachment are so clear, and they are accessible to anyone. Why then, do so many people continue to suffer?"

    Seung Sahn thought for a moment, then said with a laugh, "Because they LIKE it!!!"

    So true... caught up in soap operas... these are The Days of our Lives...

  7. #7

    Re: Koan Practice

    Jundo said,
    We experience how Zazen is all the Koans introspected, resolved and illuminated at once!
    Perfect!

    Exactly where Rinzai and Soto Zen merge into one. Original Mind is thus. All resolutions at once! gassho shogen

  8. #8

    Re: Koan Practice

    Hi everyone!

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    ... We experience how Zazen is all the Koans introspected, resolved and illuminated at once!
    Thank you for these words !

    I don't know much about the koan practices in the Rinzai Lineage, and the different koans one must go trough. But I know a bit about Hua-Tou, and in these practices, the "questions" or cases are not long and formal talks. But rather a single word or phrase like 'Who is...?' or 'Mu'... But there is no real repeating or the like...
    The main practice is to be keep the "feeling of the question", to stay openly with a "sense of questioning". Not looking for any answer but to stand at the door of the perceptions, thoughts, ... and keeping that open attention and question in all conditions. Being closer and closer to "Who?".

    There are a lot of parallels with Genjokoan... but it is not yet the same. Hua tou practice is still a "crutch" to realize all phenomenons, to dance with daily koans. The practice of Zazen is still something else, a jump without boundaries in our lives, moments after moments. No screening or crutch to help, and still when we get up life is a constant and joyful koan.

    I'm sorry it may not be relevant, above all after Jundo's and Taigu's comments!

    gassho,
    Jinyu

  9. #9

    Re: Koan Practice

    a gift. sorry, you will have to share.

    Attached files

  10. #10

    Re: Koan Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by Matto

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    The sickness of the Soto lineage is equally sickening, it has to do with a self happy jolly quiet way in which numbness is thought to be perfect Samadhi.
    How so?
    I am going to take the liberty of trying to respond for Rev. T here (T, please correct me if I misunderstood)

    The equally dangerous sickness in Soto Zen is to come to see "Just Sitting" as just "bump on a log" sitting. Zazen can become a trap of complacency, and we can just come to take it for granted or start sitting as if we are killing time, twiddling our thumbs while the time passes thinking "there is nothing to attain, so this is enough". That is a serious misunderstanding of what it means to 'just sit', and is not Just Sitting and Nothing to Attain. I sometimes write this about Zazen:

    So, if someone were to think I am saying, "All you need to do in Zazen is sit down on one's hindquarters, kill some time, and that's enough ... just twiddle your thumbs in the 'Cosmic Mudra' and you are Buddha" then, respectfully, I believe they do not get my point. But if they understand, "There is absolutely no place to be, where one needs to be or elsewhere where one can be, than on that Zafu in that moment, and that moment itself is all complete, all-encompassing, always at home, the total doing of All Life, Time and Space fully realized" ... they are closer to the flavor. . Then, if they rise up from the Zafu ... sensing that they are "Buddha" ... and then try to act in life a bit more how a Buddha would act, they get the point.


    Zazen seeks no change, needs no change, is complete and whole ... and that realization works a revolutionary change. ...

    Does that make sense ... in a Zenny way?
    A famous Koan, cited by Master Dogen in his Genjo Koan ... Buddha, like the air, is always present, but yet we must fan fan fan to feel it ... Although this Way is ever present, one must bring it to life! ...

    Mayu, Zen master Baoche, was fanning himself. A monk approached and said, “Master, the nature of wind is permanent and there is no place it does not reach. Why, then, do you fan yourself?” “Although you understand that the nature of the wind is permanent,” Mayu replied, “you do not understand the meaning of its reaching everywhere.” “What is the meaning of its reaching everywhere?” asked the monk again. Mayu just kept fanning himself. The monk bowed deeply.

    The foregoing Wholeness is what Dogen called 'Zazen Samadhi'. This is not to be confused with another sickness of Zazen in running after various Samadhi states, some of which are so very peaceful and quiet and pleasant, as if running into a dark, warm, safe cave to hide and escape from life .... like a baby trying to crawl back into the womb. Our way never escapes from life, even as it finds all Peace and Stillness shining right through-and-through it. Oh, there are times we encounter such womby places in our sitting, and they are quite nice ... but we do not try or need to stay there. We are ever Reborn! As I wrote elsewhere ...

    I would say that the central pivot point of our Way is to ALWAYS have stillness within.

    However, the meaning of "stillness" is perhaps a little special in a Zenny sort of way ...

    That's because it is a "Stillness" that expresses itself as both life's stillness and life's motion ... a Peace of One Piece found in peace and even in sometime war and chaos.

    It is a "Stillness" found both sitting quietly and unmoving on the Zafu or running toward the goal line on the football field or running like hell from life's hungry tigers!

    It is a "Stillness within" that we may come to see is not limited by "within" or "without", but sweeps in and vibrantly dances all the world.

    It is a "Stillness" that is perfectly still and always present when seen and sensed and when not seen at all at dark times ... much like the shining moon is always present in the sky even when hidden by clouds in the dark night.

    So, this Practice is founded upon coming to know that Stillness on the cushion and off ... sitting, standing, walking, running or flying through the air ... sweeping in and sweeping out both inside and out.

    Something like that.
    Each of those can be just as unwholesome as a practice that shoots for some "Kensho or Bust" explosion. This is a view of "Kensho" and "Enlightenment" that was very much present in corners of the Zen world at one time, especially in the west. I was recently reading a good book on the subject, a book about the culture surrounding an older book from the 60's called "The Three Pillars of Zen" which presented a very extreme, misleading "Kensho or Bust" image of Zen practice. Here is a review of that book, called "Zen Teaching, Zen Practice: Philip Kapleau and The Three Pillars of Zen" edited by Kenneth Kraft, a long time student of Kapleau Roshi ...

    Kraft points out that Kapleau’s book is “in large measure a book about kensho” (p.14) which in itself is problematic as for many, including some of the authors of the essays, this led to “inflated expectations… [and] [t]he discrepancy between anticipatory visions of enlightenment and actual experiences of insight”. (p.15) This disjuncture between what Kapleau wrote and the actual experiences of Zen students has led to some criticisms of The Three Pillars of Zen as a book that gives an unrealistic picture of what to expect from zazen. ...

    While this emphasis on and almost inevitability of kensho is, I think, a fair criticism of The Three Pillars of Zen, there is little doubt that Kapleau’s book brought many people to the study and practice of Zen Buddhism and for that we should be grateful. It is also necessary that we understand where and how Kapleau learned his Zen practice to better understand why he wrote and taught the way he did.
    http://www.thezensite.com/ZenBookReview ... actice.htm
    Gassho, J

  11. #11

    Re: Koan Practice

    Jundo said, " there is little doubt that Kapleau’s book brought many people to the study and practice of Zen Buddhism and for that we should be grateful." Seeing things for which to be greatful is good practice. Gassho

  12. #12

    Re: Koan Practice

    Thank you for the clarification, Jundo!

  13. #13

    Re: Koan Practice

    thank you for the wise words,
    i did read them,
    will not think about it,
    I just let it be.

  14. #14

    Re: Koan Practice

    Hello all!
    I have been away for a while.

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu
    The question you should ask yourself is "where does this question of mine come from?"
    Quote Originally Posted by Matto
    Isn't that mu?
    Rev Taigu tells us Sawaki Roshi thought Koans were absolute rubbish and warns us about the craving that may come from Rinzai style Koan practice, but then gives his student... A KOAN! :shock:

    And when I read Matto's answer, my first thought was "no, silly!" (sorry about that but I did!) ops:
    And I then realized the answer was quite brilliant! :lol: I couldn't help reading Taigu's question and the question back over and over again.
    Thank you both for some very amusing and maybe even slightly insightful Koan moments! :lol:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    The equally dangerous sickness in Soto Zen is to come to see "Just Sitting" as just "bump on a log" sitting. Zazen can become a trap of complacency, and we can just come to take it for granted or start sitting as if we are killing time, twiddling our thumbs while the time passes thinking "there is nothing to attain, so this is enough". That is a serious misunderstanding of what it means to 'just sit', and is not Just Sitting and Nothing to Attain.
    This is interesting, because it is often said that Zazen is enough, the rest is not that important.

    Sawaki Roshi said: "When somebody asks me what zazen is good for, I say that zazen isn’t good for anything at all. And then some say that in that case they’d rather stop doing zazen. But what’s running around satisfying your desires good for? What is gambling good for? And dancing? What is it good for to get worked up over winning or losing in baseball? It’s all good for absolutely nothing! That’s why nothing is as sensible as sitting silently in zazen."

    I can very well see where this could be misunderstood and lead to the sort of complacency Rev Jundo is talking about, or the numbness, as Rev Taigu calls it. But Sawaki isn't saying everything is useless and empty, so if we're going to waste our time anyway, why not just waste it by sitting. On the contrary, Sawaki, if I have understood things correctly, believed Zazen was the core of and key to all of Buddhism. Wasn't he pointing out that many of the activities we tend to think of as important in our every day lives, although are minds are somewhere else when we do them, are less important than Zazen, that may look like a completely useless activity at a first glance, but may be more important than anything else, because it offers us a glimpse into being fully present in this very moment? At the same time, to avoid the craving for break throughs, Samadhis, Satoris and higher states of mind, we have to view Zazen as nothing special, an activity from which nothing can be attained...

    There is something related to this that is called the emptiness sickness or getting stuck in emptiness, ie you realize that nothing has an inherent existence and misinterpret this as meaning nothing, including you, matters, a totally nihilistic view on existence. So as long as I'm content or even happy sitting on my Zafu, everything is fine. But this is only one half of the coin. And you don't have to swing from one extreme to the other. There is something called the Middle Way, a balance in everything, and a life waiting to be lived, or a dance show waiting to be danced.

    Thank you Rev Jundo for your take on the subject of the Soto sickness. If Rev Taigu is willing, I'd like to hear more of his thoughts on this subject!

  15. #15

    Re: Koan Practice

    So if Zen is not useless why do Zen teachers say that it's useless? Maybe the question is useless to whom, e.g. Our ego? By the way, pasttimes have a very significant use of stress relief, fun, self expression, etc.

  16. #16

    Re: Koan Practice

    Quote Originally Posted by Omoi Otoshi
    Sawaki Roshi said: "When somebody asks me what zazen is good for, I say that zazen isn’t good for anything at all. And then some say that in that case they’d rather stop doing zazen. But what’s running around satisfying your desires good for? What is gambling good for? And dancing? What is it good for to get worked up over winning or losing in baseball? It’s all good for absolutely nothing! That’s why nothing is as sensible as sitting silently in zazen."
    Thank you for presenting so insightfully the lovely contraditions of this No-Way Way!

    Also, thank you for presenting the full quote, in context, by Kodo Sawaki. People often just quote the first "Zazen isn't good for anything" line, and miss the whole dance!

    useless to whom, e.g. Our ego?

    Well spoken.

    Gassho, Jundo

  17. #17

    Koan Practice

    What is the meaning of life?
    What is the meaning of Zazen?

    We can't expect to understand either before experiencing them ourselves. So we have to experience life before we can start to understand its meaning. And we have to experience Zazen before finding any usefulness in it.

    Genjo Koan:
    “If a bird or a fish tries to reach the end of its element before moving in it, this bird or this fish will not find its way or its place.”

    If we try to find out the meaning of Zazen before just sitting, then we won't find our way. And if we try to find out the meaning of life before living, then we won't find our place in the whole picture.

    When we truly live our lives and truly sit Zazen, only then I believe we can truly understand our existance, Buddha nature.

    I believe Sawaki Roshi was a very wise man.

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