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 practitionersMeido wrote: ↑Sat Nov 03, 2018 6:52 pmGetting 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/).
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
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.