Many koans or few koans?

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Pablo
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Many koans or few koans?

Post by Pablo » Thu Nov 15, 2018 11:06 pm

From the "Best shikantaza ever" topic:
Meido wrote:
Sat Nov 03, 2018 6:52 pm
Getting off topic here. But some general thoughts RE a point that was made:

I do think it's worth saying that all koans point to the same thing: our intrinsic wisdom, i.e. awakening.

But we also have to say that different koans point this out in different ways. That is, they can be said to point out different facets, expressions, and functions of awakening. Some koans also present traps that we each, according to our particularly patterns of habitual delusion, might fall into...so they are very useful in pointing out blind spots and remaining karmic traces. Some require us to express insight in various ways, thus gaining the ability to teach others. And so on.

All of this is important simply because awakening itself is not sufficient at all: it must function freely in all situations, and ultimately all the actions of body/speech/mind must be in accord with it. If we cannot freely and seamlessly embody awakening in many situations, it is not yet the fulfillment of Zen. Thus, the importance of post-awakening practice, and the usefulness of koans that function in different ways. While one or a few koans could indeed be sufficient for one's whole life, the reason many koans are gone through in Rinzai practice, for example, is so that there will be many opportunities for what I described above.

This is also the reason that in Rinzai practice many koans are classed generally according to their purpose/function, i.e. hosshin (dharmakaya), kikan (emphasizing zenki, action), gonsen (to grasp the use of living words), nanto (particularly difficult barriers), and go-i jujukin (the 5 ranks and precepts koans). (In terms of that tradition's use of koans, I always recommend the introduction to Victor Sogen Hori's book Zen Sand as the best English-language explanation of the structure and function of Rinzai koan practice...you can download it for free at the bottom of this page: http://nirc.nanzan-u.ac.jp/en/publicati ... /zen-sand/).
Thanks for the link and the description, Meido. Although my teacher Jeff went through the "traditional" Rinzai curriculum (and he has a nice review on it titled "Zen koan from the inside", if anyone's interested), his teaching method is different (as Guo Gu pointed out here), so it's nice to read other approaches from honest and experienced practitioners :namaste:

While I don't disagree with anything you say in general, I wanted to add that, as far as I know, Chinese practitioners in the Linji line used only one or two koans in their training. I got this sense from the Chan Whip Anthology, which I think is my (and Hakuin's) favorite book on Zen with Jeff's translation of Boshan. And also from old stories like Nanyue going to see Huineng and practicing for 8 years with the question "What's this that has just come?".

I think this is a kind of koan practice that can be done without daily interaction with a teacher, which (I guess) is why Jeff encourages it instead of going through gazillion koans. From personal experience, I can say it's tremendously helpful, and the fact that there is no expectation of a "good answer" whatsoever prevents me from deluding myself into thinking I've got it. Well, at least most of the time :P

In that sense I feel this approach to koan is very similar to shikantaza, which to me is the ultimate wordless koan. Nowhere to grasp, at all.
Jeff Shore's website: https://beingwithoutself.org

Zazen in Madrid: https://pandazen.es

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desert_woodworker
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by desert_woodworker » Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:31 am

Best is to awaken.

--Joe

Kaya
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Fri Nov 16, 2018 11:34 pm

Always good to sit with a koan, especially the fundamental one.

But imo, and from my experience, it goes without saying that you can't pass a koan without a teacher. And it doesn't matter whose koan it is.

P S. Attended a Jeff Shore talk at a Kalorama Unitarian Church ~30 years ago. He introduced a colloquialism for rakusu: "baby buddha bib", that I continue to enjoy.
Last edited by Kaya on Sat Nov 17, 2018 12:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

Kaya
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Sat Nov 17, 2018 12:15 am

Meido wrote: All of this is important simply because awakening itself is not sufficient at all . . .
In reply:
desert_woodworker wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:31 am
Best is to awaken.
--Joe
Without elaboration, as in Meido's post, the latter statement falls flat, and could even be interpreted as disagreement since it leaves out reference to the rest of Meido's teaching.

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Dan74
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Dan74 » Sat Nov 17, 2018 5:20 pm

I wade into the convo pretty reluctantly and not being senior or experienced, this is more of a view from the sidelines.

At various times my teacher had offered me koans, but they didn't really take (mind you, much else my teacher did and said, stayed with me for many years). The one koan that did I had an old history with dating to before Zen and when I finally got stuck into it, it bore fruit, unexpectedly and in ways I could not have imagined. This was with no guidance from my teacher, sitting as I was at that time with a Soto group and a teacher who had no idea I was even working on a koan. Seven or eight years on I couldn't be sure what exactly remains from the 'awakening', maybe just a narrative.. In the meantime, the Soto teacher has become an orthodox priest I've just discovered!

All I can say with confidence is that having practiced fairly intensively under a teacher for 8 years before that time was vital for me.

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Mason
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Mason » Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm

Best to practice whichever koan is alive.

Kaya
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Mon Nov 19, 2018 12:17 am

Mason wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm
Best to practice whichever koan is alive.
There has never been only death in a koan.

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Mason
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Mason » Mon Nov 19, 2018 1:16 am

Kaya wrote:
Mon Nov 19, 2018 12:17 am
Mason wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm
Best to practice whichever koan is alive.
There has never been only death in a koan.
Some koans are so impenetrable they are basically meaningless to your average person. All of these cases were interactions between people - if it was a student approaching a master, the master would look the student up and down and tell them according to their proclivities. If it was a master and a master, reality is just playing with itself, for your benefit. Koans in Chinese are completely dead to me because I don't speak Chinese. For a long time, most koans in English might as well have been in Chinese. But sometimes we find a koan that has a little hint of meaning to us, and that is what I mean by "alive." Take the hint of meaning and make it yours, until every single thing you say or do actualizes the fundamental.

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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Mon Nov 19, 2018 1:33 am

Mason wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm
Best to practice whichever koan is alive.
kaya wrote: There has never been only death in a koan.
Mason wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm
Some koans are so impenetrable they are basically meaningless to your average person.
Well, that's very honest to admit your experience.
Mason wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm
All of these cases were interactions between people - if it was a student approaching a master, the master would look the student up and down and tell them according to their proclivities.
As a result, the assigned koan would not be meaningless to the (average person) student.
Mason wrote:
Sun Nov 18, 2018 10:57 pm
Koans in Chinese are completely dead to me because I don't speak Chinese. For a long time, most koans in English might as well have been in Chinese. But sometimes we find a koan that has a little hint of meaning to us, and that is what I mean by "alive." Take the hint of meaning and make it yours, until every single thing you say or do actualizes the fundamental.
As an undergraduate Literature major long ago I am aware of the challenge of literature in translation. Your exhortation makes perfect sense.

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Mason
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Mason » Mon Nov 19, 2018 1:36 am

Yep, that's why it's absolutely impossible to do this without a teacher to make it alive for you. Unless you're the Buddha, which I ain't.

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Mason
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Mason » Mon Nov 19, 2018 2:54 am

Well, that's very honest to admit your experience.


Thank you for the pointer, that's actually very helpful.

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Anders
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Anders » Mon Nov 19, 2018 9:32 am

Hsuan hua used to say that a hua tou has to have flavour to be usable. Otherwise, like used up chewing gum, you spit it out and find a gum with flavour.

Not to say that one should discard a koan if one should come to a phase of it revealing tastelessness. But I do think it's a good point that it has to touch on the right angles of how our own spiritual question is shaped, to come alive somehow as an imprint of our own current situation, to be able to work with it properly.

This may not be readily apparent from the outset, but I do think it is a necessary part.

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Mason
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Mason » Tue Nov 20, 2018 6:51 pm

Best to practice the koan which is reality. And that means:

When you go to the grocery store, where is the grocery store?
When you go to the marketplace, where is the Buddha?
When you go to Zen Space, who am I?
When you go to hell, what binds you?
When you go to heaven, why must you stink so badly?
When you go to the true dharma, who is that thinks they are special for knowing the "true dharma?"
When you practice koans, why the hell are you practicing koans?
When you aren't practicing koans, where is the end of the black hole?
When I am typing these words, who can function with such precision? Is it Mason? Is it Buddha? Or - just maybe, MAYBE!!!!!! - is it your own stinking face?

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desert_woodworker
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by desert_woodworker » Tue Nov 20, 2018 11:23 pm

Not to worry; just awaken. First things first. --Joe

ps (see if Meido Roshi agrees).
Kaya wrote:
Sat Nov 17, 2018 12:15 am
Meido wrote: All of this is important simply because awakening itself is not sufficient at all . . .
In reply:
desert_woodworker wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:31 am
Best is to awaken.
--Joe
Without elaboration, as in Meido's post, the latter statement falls flat, and could even be interpreted as disagreement since it leaves out reference to the rest of Meido's teaching.
Ignorance is to be ignorant of one's original mind. - Ma Tsu

Liberation is awakening to one's original nature. - Ma Tsu

The World is all that is the case. -Ludwig Wittgenstein

Why weigh anything heavy?

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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:00 am

desert_woodworker wrote:
Tue Nov 20, 2018 11:23 pm
Not to worry; just awaken. First things first. --Joe

ps (see if Meido Roshi agrees).
Kaya wrote:
Sat Nov 17, 2018 12:15 am
Meido wrote: All of this is important simply because awakening itself is not sufficient at all . . .
In reply:
desert_woodworker wrote:
Fri Nov 16, 2018 2:31 am
Best is to awaken.
--Joe
Without elaboration, as in Meido's post, the latter statement falls flat, and could even be interpreted as disagreement since it leaves out reference to the rest of Meido's teaching.
Well, of course, I read his post, so I know his teaching: just to awaken is not sufficient.

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desert_woodworker
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by desert_woodworker » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:13 am

"Start" there... . :namaste: --Joe
Kaya wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:00 am
...just to awaken is not sufficient.
Ignorance is to be ignorant of one's original mind. - Ma Tsu

Liberation is awakening to one's original nature. - Ma Tsu

The World is all that is the case. -Ludwig Wittgenstein

Why weigh anything heavy?

Kaya
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:43 am

desert_woodworker wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:13 am
"Start" there... . :namaste: --Joe
Kaya wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:00 am
...just to awaken is not sufficient.
Sorry, but I don't believe you have anything to teach, especially above Meido, or in general.

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Enver M.
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Enver M. » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:51 am

Kaya wrote: Well, of course, I read his post, so I know his teaching: just to awaken is not sufficient.
That's my wish.What's your wish?
jump to the water (how will you learn to swim)

This is Dogen's dropping off body and mind

In my words, Both Bull & Self Transcended

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desert_woodworker
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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by desert_woodworker » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:54 am

I agree with Meido, and with you. Don't be sorry. All's swell. Strong practice, --Joe
Kaya wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:43 am
desert_woodworker wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:13 am
"Start" there... . :namaste: --Joe
Kaya wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:00 am
...just to awaken is not sufficient.
Sorry, but I don't believe you have anything to teach, especially above Meido, or in general.

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Re: Many koans or few koans?

Post by Kaya » Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:56 am

Enver M. wrote:
Wed Nov 21, 2018 1:51 am
Kaya wrote: Well, of course, I read his post, so I know his teaching: just to awaken is not sufficient.
That's my wish.What's your wish?
My wish is that you fulfill and fully actualize your wish.

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