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It is enough to ask about the matter; bow and withdraw

zenffzenff Veteran
edited June 2013 in Philosophy
My notes on the second case no longer fitted on one sheet of paper. That’s not good.
Has anyone ever tried to solve a koan with his teacher by bringing some sheets of paper and start reading them out loud?
One time while waiting for such a personal encounter with the teacher I saw him walk out of the dokusan room in the middle of a long story from one of his students. He came back with a chair.

So I’ll try to be brief.

The second case of the blue Cliff Record starts with a reference to the famous opening lines of the Xinxin Ming.

“The Ultimate Path is without difficulty;
Just avoid picking and choosing.
Just don’t love or hate,
And you’ll be lucid and clear.”
Master Chao Chou teases his students with the contradiction in these lines and one student teases him back. It ends with the Master dismissing the class.

What is there to tease? What is the contradiction?
In short; Sengcan in his text says something like “don’t be dualistic about things”. The problem is that when we agree we can say; okay I will not be dualistic instead I will be lucid and clear.
But to reject dualistic thinking ìs a dualistic way of thinking.
How do we solve that problem?
Chao Chou said: “It is enough to ask about the matter; bow and withdraw.”

That’s not a dodgy way out. He’s a Master.
He sees and he acts. No sheet of paper between that.


  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    my thinking says: ultimate reality, when tried to describe in conventional terms, this process of describing inherently brings duality - so that is why, ultimate reality can only be directly experienced and not told/understand/analyzed.
  • howhow Veteran
    Either have a very grandmotherly master or you are truly masochistic to consider bringing an intellectual answer to a koan.

    Abandon yourself to your meditation.

    Time to stop thinking that this koan exchange is about being graded.

    This was always about letting go of your conditioned limitations.
    How you relate to the unanswerableness of the koan is all the teacher is looking for.
    When no one walks in to answer the koan, time for the next one.

  • FlorianFlorian Veteran
    Is this a koan? Or just some good advice? 'The spiritual path is easy if we have no preferences' says HHDL, which seems to be a very similar message.
  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    edited June 2013
    Not as a critique or insult or as an assumption of some wider or enthroned wisdom, but just as a bit of noodling:

    I was never any good at formal koans. They struck me as juiceless and extra in my heart of hearts. This is a bit strange in the sense that I was 'brought up' in a tradition that liked to pat itself on the back as being "Rinzai." True, I wrestled with several formal koans, received approval for some of my responses ... but I could never really get on board.

    Why was I so balky? I loved Zen practice and koans seemed to be part of that practice, but I never loved them. As nearly as I can determine, the reason I could not get on board rested on an appreciation that went something like, "Life has enough naturally-occurring koans to be bothered with these add-ons." Of course whether anyone is willing to be attentive and in what way they want to exercise that attention ... well, it's personal.

    By way of a couple of simple examples that banged my chimes in honest ways: Sit in the backyard on a summer night. Await the dawn. Where is the line between night and day ... a line so proudly paraded in thought and language?

    Or ... the past cannot be grasped (nothing sexy, just a statement of fact). I live in the present and yet rely on the past. How does this compute? How could this not instill a sense of unsatisfactoriness? And into the bargain, the statement that I live in the present is a fluffy piece of fiction since by the time I notice I live in the present, it has become past ... etc. Living-in-the-present-moment is just a bit of conversational claptrap.

    My Zen teacher seemed to know I was not very toe-the-mark when it came to the 1,700 formal koans in Zen. "Buddha didn't study 1,700 koans," he consoled me. The superficial might take such a line as meaning they have leave to run around 'doing my own thing' without applying some effort. But that was not how I took it. Rather, I thought he meant that finding my own heart-felt koans, and applying some heart-felt effort (as perhaps in zazen) was sufficient.

    As I say, I mention this not as a means of laying out some "right" or "wrong," but just as a recollection that might inject a bit of relaxation into practice. In a wispy way, I sort of wish I had been more willing to agree to the formal koans of Zen. But, without rancor or criticism, I couldn't. And things worked out OK.

  • zenffzenff Veteran
    edited June 2013
    Making notes on koans is not formal koan practice; I'm aware of the difference.
    I think that looking at koans - not as formal koan practice but just at the strange stories they are - can be interesting.

    But don't worry, I'm not going to comment on all hundred Blue Cliff Record koans here.
  • Been awhile since i visited here, but this discussion caught my attention. There are so many levels of peoples understanding of koans. And there are many ways in which "koans" are encountered. So there is no "right" answer to be projected onto another's situation when they encounter a koan, either by a "teacher" or by the dilemmas that life throws at us. If we are lucky enough, we will drop to the core of our own being, and be satisfied with "not knowing"......because there is nothing to know....for if there were we would be caught again in dualism, and proceed with explaining something that has nothing to do with our present moment in this universe.
  • edited June 2013
    The Cloudless Sky
    Clouds disperse
    An opening
    Cloud dispersing
    A tunnel leading nowhere and to nothing

    Enquiry koans pointing nonexistent attention through the clouds

    Parting, "you" meet the vastness
    Always here
    Prior to here
    Ever present
    Prior to present
    Ever now
    Prior to now

    Looking at the background

    Poor metaphors:
    Looking at yourself
    Being yourself
    Be yourself

    Too many fusions with a bad choice of words
    Giving the illusion of further away from that
    which you are
    An experience without vehicles

    Another poor choice of words "experience"
    Implying a body with a point of reference
    A frame of reference
    And something you are

    The Teaching Master
    Must allow the metaphoric meteoric
    pointer to appear

    Revealing the layer "within" and "beyond"

    Peeling the layers
    Without hurting or harming the nonexistent core
    which you are

    "You" a poor metaphor
    "I" a poor metaphor
    Nonexistent not comprehendible
    Layers even worse

    Maybe its best to stay still and wait
    Focus on the spaces between teaching and words

    The clouds disperse . . . .
  • zenff said:

    What is there to tease? What is the contradiction?
    In short; Sengcan in his text says something like “don’t be dualistic about things”. The problem is that when we agree we can say; okay I will not be dualistic instead I will be lucid and clear.
    But to reject dualistic thinking ìs a dualistic way of thinking.
    How do we solve that problem?

    By not seeing it as a problem.

    If the one dualistic decision you make is to reject further dualistic thinking, how much better is that for you than the alternative?
  • zenffzenff Veteran

    My guess is no, it is not one decision. This is happening at every moment.
    Every moment we put layers of concepts and preferences on top of things.

    But I agree that when the only layer we put on top of things is the layer of “clarity” that could reduce the complexity of the problems we make.

    That would be like every moment the only thing on my mind is these lines of Xinxin Ming and I’m deliberately trying to not add preferences to the experience. Maybe occasionally I grumble when I forgot about it and I am being dualistic.

    The bare experience however is without all layers. It’s not dualistic or non-dualistic; these are just concepts.


    Disclaimer: just my two cents.
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