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Thread: Koans

  1. #1


    The emphasis here is Shikantaza. I like it.

    Is there a place for koans?

    If so, how might they be useful?


    Sat today

  2. #2
    Hi Kevin,

    What do you mean by Koan?

    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__

  3. #3
    Hi Kevin,

    Yes as a Soto Zen Sangha, we do not sit with Koans. However we certainly discuss and learn from them! Probably the easiest way to see an example is if you look back a little ways in the book club, you will find where we were discussing some Koans each week from the Book of Serenity. You could also enter a word or two from a particular Koan in the search bar and Iím sure some threads will come up.

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    清 道 寂田
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

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  5. #5
    Yes, as Jakuden notes, we have been reflecting on the Book of Equanimity (aka Book of Serenity). Here is what I usually say about Koan Practice in Soto Zen ...


    First, one must be clear on what one means by "Koan practice."

    Many Rinzai (and most of the mixed Soto-Rinzai lineages derived from Yasutani Roshi, such as the Sanbokyodan, Maezumi Roshi and his students, Aitken Roshi, Philip Kapleu of the "Three Pillars of Zen") emphasize Zazen centered, often intensively, on a phrase or word from a Koan until an intense "Great Doubt" builds within the sitter which eventually cracks open into an intense experience of "Kensho" in which the self/object division is penetrated. (Such mixed Soto-Rinzai lineages may also practice Shikantaza, but it sometimes seems to take a back seat to Koan Introspection Zazen and the drive for Kensho, and is sometimes not really "Shikantaza" in my opinion ... but that is another topic. Also, in Soto we value also "Kensho," meaning "to see the True Nature," and the softening and falling away of the self/other divide ... but not necessarily with such an intensive push, also a topic for another time). The Rinzai and mixed folks often have a Koan "curriculum" of sometimes hundreds of Koans that one must pass through on the road to enlightenment. They are said to work on different aspects of insight, and refine the experience of enlightenment. I have my doubts, as I discuss below. (Other Rinzai lines tend to stay perhaps with even one single Koan for one's whole life).

    In any case, we cherish Koans in Soto too and Soto folks work with Koans, chew on Koans, penetrate Koans ... but not as an aspect of Shikantaza Zazen, on the cushion, in the way of Rinzai and mixed Soto-Rinzai practitioners. One cannot read Dogen's Shobogenzo and Eihei Koroku without acknowledging that he and his monks danced with Koans as a key part of his Teaching. We do too. However, one actually wants to get the message of the Koan. Koans do present Wisdom and Zen/Mahayana teachings in very poetic and creative fashion, often going beyond ordinary logic but consistent with the logic of the Mahayana (where a mountain is not a flower - yet it is, and there is no birth or death - yet each is so too, and Buddha and ignorant us are not the same - yet we are. The koans help us see beyond ordinary language and the "common sense" logic of daily experiencing the world in order to know such other Truths too.) The koans are not arbitrary, meaningless or illogical in a Mahayana sense.

    One cannot read Dogen's Shobogenzo and Eihei Koroku without acknowledging that he and his monks danced and played with the "classic" Koans as a key part of his Teaching. We do too. We also realize the "Genjo Koan" which are the endless Koans of life continuously manifesting here there and everywhere ... in each gesture and moment of life.

    Tomorrow, in our monthly Zazenkai, I will be speaking about a wild section of Shobogenzo called Gyobutsu Iigi, which can only be called a wild Koany ride itself, within which Dogen dances with some of the "classic" Zen Koans too. We also have dances with the "Book of Serenity/Equanimity" collection of Koans in our readings in the "Wordless Book Club" here at Treeleaf ...


    Koans, the way they were originally developed (before Master Dahui made them an object for concentration on a phrase during Zazen in the Rinzai way back in the 12th Century) and the way Dogen and others use them in our Soto Way, are basically teaching tools. There is a logic to them, but just not our normal "common sense" logic (which is the often incomplete). Most of the Koans "make sense" in Buddhist and Mahayana terms, and contain our perspectives. Koans can be explained, and were not developed merely as absurd and totally senseless stories. For an excellent introduction to Koans used in such way, please look at our book club and our readings on each of the Koans of the Book of Serenity (aka Book of Equanimity), a Koan collection cherished in the Soto Tradition and by Dogen (who also cherished the Blue Cliff Record collection). You will see how the Koans actually have meaning.

    The idea that Koans are meant to be totally meaningless, absurd and just monkey wrenches to the brain is ridiculous. For example, in ordinary logic a chair is not a mountain. In Zen, a chair is not a mountain yet it is, as are you too. Koans just help us understand such points. No, they are not merely to be understood with the brain intellectually, but one might say that they need to be understood with a freshly open brain and felt deep in the bones. They are often meant to be fun too (They usually contain humor. Part of the difficulty we have with them is that the old Chinese jokes, puns and references are hard to translate now ... but people got the jokes and cultural references back then).

    Gassho, Jundo


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