Mumonkan Case 5

Discussion of Zen Buddhism.
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desert_woodworker
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by desert_woodworker » Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:47 pm

Spike wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:34 pm
Well, it is news to me that a student would work "in closest consultation" with other students about an assigned koan. I and all other students I knew always did our own work individually, as far as I know. Anything less would invalidate it. Also, for me, "accord" with the koan was always the consideration.
To me, the work is with teacher and sangha. Talk and work with the teacher; sit with the sangha. Remember the sangha?

You may not have missed this in your time (if ever), but your memory or recognition may now be spotty, who knows. No worries. Folks here may be some who'll pardon. I'd be one.

--Joe

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clyde
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by clyde » Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:03 am

It’s my understanding that in the Rinzai school koans are ‘worked on’ by the student with their teacher. But other schools (e.g. - Soto) and even in some lineages of the Rinzai sect koans are approached and handled differently, including discussing koans with sangha members.
“Enlightenment means to see what harm you are involved in and to renounce it.” David Brazier, The New Buddhism

“The most straightforward advice on awakening enlightened mind is this: practice not causing harm to anyone—yourself or others—and every day, do what you can to be helpful.” Pema Chodron, “What to Do When the Going Gets Rough”

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Spike
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Spike » Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:11 am

desert_woodworker wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:47 pm
Spike wrote:
Tue Jun 11, 2019 10:34 pm
Well, it is news to me that a student would work "in closest consultation" with other students about an assigned koan. I and all other students I knew always did our own work individually, as far as I know. Anything less would invalidate it. Also, for me, "accord" with the koan was always the consideration.
To me, the work is with teacher and sangha. Talk and work with the teacher; sit with the sangha. Remember the sangha?

You may not have missed this in your time (if ever), but your memory or recognition may now be spotty, who knows. No worries. Folks here may be some who'll pardon. I'd be one.

--Joe
No. The point you missed is my contention that a student must do his or her own work on a koan, at least in the tradition I am part of, and does not work on a koan "in closest consultation" with other students, as you specifically said ("the work is with . . . sangha"), because that would no longer be the representation of the student's work. That is the Rinzai way.

Sitting with a sangha certainly can be supportive. But it is not fair or supportive to implicitly denigrate others, as you have done over and over, who do not have that opportunity now. Better to sit solo than not sit. I have always known the monastery zazen schedule where I have studied and at specific times use this as a compass. If others here remember and admire Meido, Korin-ji zazen schedule is easily obtained. Just sit!

"Remember the sangha"? Hell, I'm so old I remember the Alamo!

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Mason
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Mason » Wed Jun 12, 2019 1:26 am

Sitting with sangha is nice. I'd also recommend living with sangha. Lots of road for the rubber!
"The Way needs no cultivation, just do not defile. What is defilement? When with a mind of birth and death one acts in a contrived way, then everything is a defilement. If one wants to know the Way directly: Ordinary Mind is the Way!"

- Record of Ma-tsu

Caodemarte
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Caodemarte » Wed Jun 12, 2019 2:45 am

clyde wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 12:03 am
It’s my understanding that in the Rinzai school koans are ‘worked on’ by the student with their teacher. But other schools (e.g. - Soto) and even in some lineages of the Rinzai sect koans are approached and handled differently, including discussing koans with sangha members.
The koan work with the Sangha is the relationship with the Sangha, including sitting silently together or living together, like the rest of life.

Discussing a koan can be helpful in clarifying a koan’s historical context, its story, but a discussion with anyone about it in an attempt to resolve or work with it it seems absolutely pointless. In the Rinzai groups I have known no one was forbidden to work with koans by discussion, but no one ever bothered to do so and I can’t imagine anyone wishing to do so. So no secrets, no taboos, just a recognition that talking about taking a shower, the quality of the water, the history of the water may be appropriate in specific context, but not in an actual effort to get clean (just take the shower or try a bath). Even formal one on one meetings with a teacher in retreat are not “to discuss” a koan.

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by avisitor » Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:01 am

[james] wrote:
Sun Jun 09, 2019 1:56 am
avisitor wrote:
Sun Jun 09, 2019 1:38 am
What benefit comes from throwing a Koan at people?
It is neither theirs to wrestle nor theirs to answer
And where is the other end?
No teacher?
Oh come on ... if not a wrestle how about a wee tussle and tumble.
Go ahead, give it a squeeze.

However it came your way ... thrown, given, stumbled upon ... it’s yours, and if you allow the connection there may be no letting go. Teacher yes or teacher no, either way the match is on.
If one stumbles upon the secret formula without the proper education then the secret remains a secret
There is no understanding under such circumstances
For the Koan to work there needs to be the other side of this equation, the teacher


fuki wrote:
Sun Jun 09, 2019 8:58 am
What benefit comes from birds flying and fish swimming?
Birds fly naturally
So fish swim naturally
The benefit is living

People do not do Koans as a matter of regular life
Only when one is under the guidance of a teacher can one benefit from a Koan

Everyone has heard of the Koan of the sound of one hand clap
And none who have heard it without the guidance of a teacher understand the true meaning
And of those who have heard it, the effectiveness of hearing of this Koan for the first time is loss
This truth of one's nature is experienced rather than book learnt

Sorry, this is how I see it.
Although hearing such things might bring one to search more for the source of such Koans

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by clyde » Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:33 am

Caodemarte wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 2:45 am
The koan work with the Sangha is the relationship with the Sangha, including sitting silently together or living together, like the rest of life.
:) Yes, one’s relationship to a sangha is a koan!

Yes, I understand that traditional Rinzai koan practice exists in the relationship between a Zen student and their teacher - and follows a method. But I’m not personally familiar with the practice.

There are other ways, outside of the Zen student - Zen teacher relationship, to engage with a koan - and derive benefit. Zen teachers who give Dharma talks about koans and Zen teachers who write commentaries to koans are doing so for the benefit of listeners and readers. And this applies to ancient commentaries as well as modern ones.

Whether one is in formal Rinzai koan practice with a Zen teacher or examines a koan on one’s own, any response is that persons alone.
“Enlightenment means to see what harm you are involved in and to renounce it.” David Brazier, The New Buddhism

“The most straightforward advice on awakening enlightened mind is this: practice not causing harm to anyone—yourself or others—and every day, do what you can to be helpful.” Pema Chodron, “What to Do When the Going Gets Rough”

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Caodemarte » Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:11 am

clyde wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:33 am
.....Zen teachers who give Dharma talks about koans and Zen teachers who write commentaries to koans are doing so for the benefit of listeners and readers. And this applies to ancient commentaries as well as modern ones....
Yes, this would not be discussing the koan or talking about the koan, but using words to point towards reality. There is nothing sacred about a koan, which is simply a matter of words to point towards something. It is often described, by its proponents, as dirty little trick or as simple, humble tool. My point is that discussing the dirty shovel does not get the hole dug.

In a dharma talk on the Record of Rinzai it was pointed out that Rinzai, who knew his sutras, referred to the scriptures as the equivalent of toilet paper. He was not devaluing them. We all know how valuable and useful toilet paper is when you need it. But what a stink if you cling to it and clutch it to your chest! Same with koans.

One of the great values of consulting with a genuine spiritual friend is that you quickly find out if you have truly cleaned up or are just stinking up the place. It is always one’s own odor, of course, but, for almost all people, it is difficult to smell their own stink.

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Mason
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Mason » Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:00 pm

If the scriptures are equivalent to toilet paper and koans are esoteric and ineffable, what kinds of discussion would be appropriate for a Zen forum?

Also, I never made it past Mu, so I don't know too much about koans. But I've always wondered about the concern of saying too much about a koan or in some way revealing the "answer." What does this have to do with the actual dynamics of practice?
"The Way needs no cultivation, just do not defile. What is defilement? When with a mind of birth and death one acts in a contrived way, then everything is a defilement. If one wants to know the Way directly: Ordinary Mind is the Way!"

- Record of Ma-tsu

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by clyde » Wed Jun 12, 2019 5:05 pm

Caodemarte wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:11 am
One of the great values of consulting with a genuine spiritual friend is that you quickly find out if you have truly cleaned up or are just stinking up the place. It is always one’s own odor, of course, but, for almost all people, it is difficult to smell their own stink.
Pee . . . Yuu!!

Yes, “a genuine spiritual friend” is a blessing and “the whole of the holy life.”
“Enlightenment means to see what harm you are involved in and to renounce it.” David Brazier, The New Buddhism

“The most straightforward advice on awakening enlightened mind is this: practice not causing harm to anyone—yourself or others—and every day, do what you can to be helpful.” Pema Chodron, “What to Do When the Going Gets Rough”

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Spike » Thu Jun 13, 2019 12:59 am

Mason wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:00 pm
If the scriptures are equivalent to toilet paper and koans are esoteric and ineffable, what kinds of discussion would be appropriate for a Zen forum?

Also, I never made it past Mu, so I don't know too much about koans. But I've always wondered about the concern of saying too much about a koan or in some way revealing the "answer." What does this have to do with the actual dynamics of practice?
viewtopic.php?f=17&t=682

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Caodemarte » Thu Jun 13, 2019 2:12 am

Mason wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:00 pm
If the scriptures are equivalent to toilet paper and koans are esoteric and ineffable, what kinds of discussion would be appropriate for a Zen forum? ....always wondered about the concern of saying too much about a koan or in some way revealing the "answer." What does this have to do with the actual dynamics of practice?
Koans are literally “public cases,” court trials cited as precedent. They are the opposite of esoteric and ineffable, although they may appear that way due to cultural references which were really hip in the day, but almost completely obscure today to moderns (making them a dead literary form has come close to killing off the practice in the past). In actual practice a koan must be clear to the student so Kamakura era Zen teachers made up very simple direct koans for their samurai students with little knowledge of classical Chinese literature.

You cannot reveal the “answers,” unless you are indulging in koans as a literary form or intellectual amusement, anymore than you can supply the answer to any existential question (each “answer” must be very deeply individual and therefore universal). You can mislead others and yourself into deluding themselves or yourself and accepting a shallow understanding. Such discussions are considered pointless and distracting if not harmful in the tradition. They are considered an obstruction of real and sincere practice (granted such practice is not what all people are interested in). If you wish to practice sincerely it would seem wise to listen to the tradition’s advice oh how to do so or at least consider it.

So for a Zen forum discussions of the history of koans, of their form, of their evolution would be very appropriate and interesting for me (There are very interesting academic books on this), but not, God forbid, another “Internet Koan Discussion Group” where koans are like riddles with answers you find in a book. Others may be interested in such things. I am not the religious police, and no one has to follow my opinion. Again, your actions, how you practice, if you practice, are all your own call.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:57 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Mason
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Mason » Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:54 am

Thanks, that's helpful. The idea of set answers to koans (I've heard of books with these "answers" circling around in Japan once) still irks me. If one has a qualified teacher, such nonsense would be a non-issue IMO.
"The Way needs no cultivation, just do not defile. What is defilement? When with a mind of birth and death one acts in a contrived way, then everything is a defilement. If one wants to know the Way directly: Ordinary Mind is the Way!"

- Record of Ma-tsu

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Caodemarte » Thu Jun 13, 2019 5:10 am

Mason wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:54 am
Thanks, that's helpful. Still seems to me like studying and discussing scripture would be at least as relevant as discussing the history of koans. It sounds to me like that Lin-chi's toilet paper remark was spoken in a certain social and historical context, not as a promotion of anti-intellectualism or ignoring the words of the Buddha.
Sure would be, but probably a different thread. It has always struck me as weird that many people in the West seem to have the impression that Zen is somehow non-Buddhist and that independent of the scriptures means hostile to the scriptures whereas actual Zen Buddhist teachers believe that they are teaching pure Buddhism and the meaning and intent of the scriptures.

The point of my quote was that toilet paper, like scripture, is useful. It is the holding on to the paper or the words so that you can’t use them (or after in some case) that is the problem, if not a straight out pathology. Lin-chi was clearly not promoting anti-intellectualism or ignoring the words of the Buddha (he was speaking them). He was very well educated in the sutras, a specialist in the Vinaya, who said that before he truly practiced he was like a man who memorized recipes. Then he tried actually eating the meal (the purpose of preparing recipes). Much healthier and more delicious.

BTW, this founder of the Rinzai tradition is never quoted as using the word “koan.” The phrase for a similar practice he uses only to criticize the monks using it! Even today I would hope that the Rinzai tradition is not about koans, an expedient tool, but about realization.
Last edited by Caodemarte on Thu Jun 13, 2019 5:25 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Mason » Thu Jun 13, 2019 5:23 am

Caodemarte wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 5:10 am
Mason wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:54 am
Thanks, that's helpful. Still seems to me like studying and discussing scripture would be at least as relevant as discussing the history of koans. It sounds to me like that Lin-chi's toilet paper remark was spoken in a certain social and historical context, not as a promotion of anti-intellectualism or ignoring the words of the Buddha.
The point of my quote was that toilet paper is incredibly useful. It is holding on to it after you use it that is the problem, if not a straight out pathology. Lin-chi was clearly not promoting anti-intellectualism or ignoring the words of the Buddha (he was speaking them). He was very well educated in the sutras, a specialist in the Vinaya, who said that before he truly practiced he was like a man who memorized recipes. Then he tried actually eating the meal (the purpose of preparing recipes). Much healthier and more delicious.

BTW, the founder of the Rinzai tradition is never quoted as using the word “koan.” The phrase for a similar practice he uses only to criticize the monks using it! Even today I would hope that the Rinzai tradition is not about koans, an expedient tool, but about realization.
Thanks - btw, I edited my post before I saw your response. I think I was looking too hard for something to disagree with.

In my experience, the scriptures advocate practice. So if you decide only to read them without actually doing the practices advocated therein, that's your decision. Even then, helping to preserve the wealth of Buddhist wisdom in texts and memory is a very respectable thing.

In my cooking experience, recipes have been helpful. ;)

https://www.buddha-statues.info/blog/si ... -buddhism/
"The Way needs no cultivation, just do not defile. What is defilement? When with a mind of birth and death one acts in a contrived way, then everything is a defilement. If one wants to know the Way directly: Ordinary Mind is the Way!"

- Record of Ma-tsu

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by KeithA » Thu Jun 13, 2019 3:54 pm

Caodemarte wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 6:11 am
clyde wrote:
Wed Jun 12, 2019 4:33 am
.....Zen teachers who give Dharma talks about koans and Zen teachers who write commentaries to koans are doing so for the benefit of listeners and readers. And this applies to ancient commentaries as well as modern ones....
Yes, this would not be discussing the koan or talking about the koan, but using words to point towards reality. There is nothing sacred about a koan, which is simply a matter of words to point towards something. It is often described, by its proponents, as dirty little trick or as simple, humble tool. My point is that discussing the dirty shovel does not get the hole dug.

In a dharma talk on the Record of Rinzai it was pointed out that Rinzai, who knew his sutras, referred to the scriptures as the equivalent of toilet paper. He was not devaluing them. We all know how valuable and useful toilet paper is when you need it. But what a stink if you cling to it and clutch it to your chest! Same with koans.

One of the great values of consulting with a genuine spiritual friend is that you quickly find out if you have truly cleaned up or are just stinking up the place. It is always one’s own odor, of course, but, for almost all people, it is difficult to smell their own stink.
Emphasis mine.

Ha! What a great little sentence!

:106:
You make, you get.

New Haven Zen Center

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clyde
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by clyde » Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:09 pm

The koan seems to focus on the man hanging from a tree by his teeth and the life-and-death question. But there is another person in the koan - the person who sees the man hanging from a tree by his teeth and asks the life-and-death question.

What sort of person sees a man hanging from a tree by his teeth and asks him a life-and-death question?
“Enlightenment means to see what harm you are involved in and to renounce it.” David Brazier, The New Buddhism

“The most straightforward advice on awakening enlightened mind is this: practice not causing harm to anyone—yourself or others—and every day, do what you can to be helpful.” Pema Chodron, “What to Do When the Going Gets Rough”

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by Caodemarte » Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:17 pm

KeithA wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 3:54 pm
...
Ha! What a great little sentence!...
Thanks and, if you like it, feel free to use it. Now I have to go away and dig with it!

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lindama
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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by lindama » Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:50 pm

koans don't focus, they are alive

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Re: Mumonkan Case 5

Post by avisitor » Thu Jun 13, 2019 7:35 pm

lindama wrote:
Thu Jun 13, 2019 4:50 pm
koans don't focus, they are alive
How can they be alive?
They don't breath.
They don't eat.
They don't reproduce.
They don't grow.

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