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Zen koan's understanding

misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a HinduIndia Veteran
edited June 15 in General Banter

Hi All,
I read the below Zen koan titled Qingyuan’s Whisk which is the first koan in Dogen's 300 koan collections:
Zen master Qingyuan Xingsi [Hongji] of Jingju Monastery once asked Zen master Xiqian of Shitou [Wuji], “Where are you from?”
Shitou said, “I am from Caoxi [where the Sixth Ancestor taught].” _
_Master Qingyuan held up a whisk and said, “Do they have this in Caoxi?”

Shitou said, “Not in Caoxi, nor in India.”
The master said, “You haven’t been to India, have you?”
Shitou said, “If I had been there, it would have been there.”
The master said, “If you haven’t been there, how can you say that?”
Shitou said, “Master, you should say something rather than letting me say it all.”
The master said, “It’s not that I mind saying something, but I fear it would be misunderstood later.”

My understanding of the above koan is that the above koan is about 'just this' or suchness. The talk is between 2 enlightened masters about 'just this'. Initially master Xingsi asked Shitou that where is he from and Shitou replied Coaxi (I am interpreting it as China, but the idea is from where Zen started or may be we can think of China as Bodhidharma started this Zen stuff in China) - a normal question answer based on our conventional reality.

Next when master Xingsi raised up the whisk and asked Do they have this in Caoxi? - My understanding here is now the master has shifted the talk to ultimate reality and the word this in his question is referring to 'just thisness' of their that moment - so that moment the master had held up the whisk and asked whether that moment is there in Coaxi (China) - or that moment's suchness' teaching is available in Bodhidharma's teaching? to which the logical answer comes that no, it can't be in China since that moment was arising at the place where the master and Shitou were having this conversation. But the reply from Shitou was "Not in Caoxi, nor in India" - So my extrapolated understanding says that meaning of Shitou's answer was - this moment or this justness, which you are asking that whether this teaching of that moment's suchness is available in China - in other words, whether that moment's suchness' teaching was taught by Bodhidharma, the answer to this question as given by Shitou was - no, this justness is not available in Coaxi and neither in India, meaning , this 'just this' or this suchness is not available in Bodhidharma's teaching (so not in China) and not available in Buddha's teaching (so not in India).

Then the master asked The master said, “You haven’t been to India, have you?” to which Shitou said, “If I had been there, it would have been there.” - meaning master said - but you were not in Buddha's place when he attained enlightenment, to which Shitou said that if Shitou would have been in India, then since he would have been in India, so suchness or just this then would have been in India, since Shitou would have directly experienced it in his present moment's just thisness or suchness in India.

Then the master said, “If you haven’t been there, how can you say that?” - here one enlightened master is indirectly wanting another enlightened master to explain suchness in words. To which Shitou said, “Master, you should say something rather than letting me say it all.” - here the second enlightened master is requesting the first enlightened master that I have said enough, so please you describe suchness or just this or just thisness now. To which the first master said, “It’s not that I mind saying something, but I fear it would be misunderstood later.” - meaning he did not mind to say something about suchness, but the future generations may stuck to his words for understanding suchness, rather than they directly experiencing suchness for themselves, so he feared that his words about suchness may be misunderstood later.

Is my above understanding of the above koan makes some sense, or, is my above understanding totally non-sense? Can someone validate my above understanding of the above koan please? Thanks in advance.

Comments

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    If you were to relate your understanding of the above Koan to a Master, they would smack you smartly with their Keisaku!

    The whole point of a koan is to NOT think about it, but to permit its wisdom to permeate the layers of thinking slowly, and to settle in the mud of your Mind, and put forth a lotus.

    Read it, with an Empty Mind. Expect nothing. Don't fill the blank.

    Contemplate it.
    Don't think it.
    Above all, definitely don't try to understand it!

    Hozan
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran

    @federica said:
    Contemplate it.
    Don't think it.
    Above all, definitely don't try to understand it!

    How to contemplate a koan without thinking about it? Also is there no such thing like a correct understanding and an incorrect understanding of a koan? Please suggest. Thanks in advance.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator
    edited June 16

    @misecmisc1 said:

    @federica said:
    Contemplate it.
    Don't think it.
    Above all, definitely don't try to understand it!

    How to contemplate a koan without thinking about it?

    Just read the question, observe the words but empty Mind of trying to diagnose their meaning.
    Just understand the koan without trying to dissect it.

    Also is there no such thing like a correct understanding and an incorrect understanding of a koan? Please suggest. Thanks in advance.

    Who judges what is correct?
    Who judges what is incorrect?
    By what standards?
    How? When?
    When you have first read it, or when you have absorbed the koan?

  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    @misecmisc1 said:
    How to contemplate a koan without thinking about it? Also is there no such thing like a correct understanding and an incorrect understanding of a koan? Please suggest. Thanks in advance.

    The idea is that a koan will both make sense and not, @misecmisc1.

    When you are working with a koan, you are going beyond your rational mind.
    A koan is meant to challenge our usual discursive thinking and the conventional way we use our mind to perceive reality.

    Somehow, a koan conveys the big absurdity of this life when we strive to figure out a logical sense to it.
    And we learn to see things with an empty cup rather than through the filter of our conditioning.

    HozanlobsterShoshin
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited June 16

    @federica said:
    Who judges what is correct?
    Who judges what is incorrect?
    By what standards?
    How? When?
    When you have first read it, or when you have absorbed the koan?

    I think in Rinzai tradition the above is what a Zen master does with his students, when koan contemplation is done.

    Since the koan by themselves does not make much sense to rational logic, so may be koans would have been designed purposefully in that way so that when a person will try to think about it to understand it, at some point in the koan (may be at the end of the koan), the person would read something in the koan which is just the opposite of what should have been if the logical flow of the koan would have been followed, so at that moment, the mind of the person trying to understand the koan goes blank which may be the direct experience of empty mind or suchness at that moment - though the problem is within the next moment the thinking mind would again creep up to try to analyze what just happened in the previous moment and again the thinking mind would then start proliferating into prapancha. So in this way, does it make some sense to try to understand the koan through thinking about it? Please suggest. Thanks in advance.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    Yes.

    And no, of course.

  • ShoshinShoshin No one in particular Nowhere Special Veteran

    Zen koan's understanding

    Every which way one thinks about the koan one arrives at a logical dead end (the mind left wanting) ...

    The idea of a koan, is to make one have a thought explosion...blowing the thoughts out of the mind, taking the mind beyond the intellect....

    The koan answer lies beyond intellect.... in a mind blown wide open ....

    DhammaDragonHozan
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    edited June 17

    This is the problem with doing koan practice without a teacher. You have no way of knowing if you understand it or not! And you can't really rely on people on the internet because they may not understand it either. You also may try to take on a koan that is not appropriate for you. You also may think you understand it, when you're not even close.

    lobster
  • lobsterlobster Veteran

    Well said @seeker242
    It is a sound training methodology, needing competent unfolding not amateur zenniths ...

    I refuse to engage in answering such a nonsensical posting geared to koan reasoning. Pah!

    Use the ASK A TEACHER section here:
    http://www.zenforuminternational.org

  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    We love to pick up a koan randomly and analyze it, but truth is teachers would give a specific koan to a specific pupil according to his specific needs and stage of development.
    So while some koans are easier to figure out, others are rather useless without context.

    federicalobsterHozan
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited June 17

    @seeker242 said:
    This is the problem with doing koan practice without a teacher. You have no way of knowing if you understand it or not! And you can't really rely on people on the internet because they may not understand it either. You also may try to take on a koan that is not appropriate for you. You also may think you understand it, when you're not even close.

    Agreed friend. But I do not have a Zen monastry near by and I am too lazy to go to the online forum URL which @lobster has posted above. I also got the point that specific koans are meant for specific students, but since I do not have a Zen monastry near by, so I will just randomly select some koan and try to understand it.

    Just now I read the below koan and it seemed interesting to me and I thought about the below koan and an interesting thought came to my mind about suchness. The below koan title is Mazu’s “Heart Sutra” and it is the 4th koan in Dogen's 300 koan collections:
    Once, Lecturer Liang of Mount Xi studied with Mazu, who said, “Which sūtra do you teach?”
    Liang said, “The Heart/Mind Sūtra.” Mazu said, “How do you teach it?”
    Liang said, “I teach it with the mind.”
    Mazu said, “The mind is like an actor . The will is like a supporting actor . The objects of the six senses are like their company. How can they teach this sūtra?”
    Liang said, “If the mind can’t teach it, can emptiness teach it?”
    Mazu said, “Yes, emptiness can teach it.”
    Liang flipped his sleeves and walked away.
    Mazu called out, “Lecturer!”
    Liang turned his head.
    Mazu said, “From birth till death, it’s just this.”
    At that moment Liang had realization. He hid himself at Mount Xi [J., Sei] and was not heard from again.

    I was thinking about the line which Mazu said - “From birth till death, it’s just this.” So this koan is also referring to suchness and what Mazu was referring to is that the intimacy of the interaction of his calling out to the lecturer and he turning his head. So even though, nobody initially called out and nobody turned his head, still when there was a call, there was a response. Emptiness called and emptiness responded. The interesting thought which came to my mind was that suchness or just thisness is the aliveness in the moment - the moment is so small that we cannot think a thought in it, but still in that moment, there is aliveness, because in that moment we are alive and experiencing it or we are intimately connected with that moment without our thinking involved in it. Just as I was writing the previous line, another thought came to my mind that it is not that we experience the moment, rather the moment includes everything even our bodies, so our bodies are a part of the manifestation of that moment - basically since our bodies are just matter, so it cannot realize anything, so then the mind may be realizing it - but is the mind separate from that moment? How is the next moment arising? I don't know, but the next moment is arising. But what is the mind? I stopped for 5 min to think about it, then a wall was in front of me in the room in which I am sitting, so I thought to see that cemented wall for sometime to see where my mind is when I will be seeing the wall. So while I was seeing the cemented wall, I realized my eyes were tensed, so relaxed them and tried relaxing my body for those 5 mins, then a thought came to me that mind usually comes into picture when we think, but when I am just seeing the wall, then only seeing is happening, so mind is not getting used here. So suchness would be the experience of just now or just thisness - we cannot describe it, because in order to describe it, we have to think and a moment is so small that we cannot think even a single thought in it and moreover when we would be thinking, some new moments will be arising and passing by themselves.

    So in a way, our life from birth to death, each moment is just that aliveness or suchness and whatever we think about is added on top of it as an extra, so all our thoughts, our learnings, all the teachings are an extra layer which we add in order to make something out of this continuous arising and ceasing of moments. In other words, it is always suchness or just thisness - but since we are humans and we have a brain and we have learnt things and have emotions and have our past karma (see again thinking is happening here), we have our human life and our responsibilites (like in my case as most of you know I have a wife and a daughter) so inspite of that suchness or emptiness, we still get caught up in our prapancha or our mental proliferation of situations. But in spite of this, since every moment is suchness, that just thisness of each moment or the emptiness of each moment is teaching Heart Sutra - which I think Mazu said to the lecturer earlier that emptiness can teach Heart Sutra, which Mazu showed by calling the lecturer and the lecturer turning his head and in that moment of they just seeing eachother exemplified how emptiness or suchness teaches Heart Sutra.

    Above is just some random thoughts (which came to my mind and I just wrote down in this post), which may be complete non-sense, since I am not even a Buddhist, leave about being a Zennist. Sorry, if reading my this post wasted your time.

    If someone can help me to correct my understanding for the above koan, it shall be helpful to me. Thanks in advance for helping me to correct my understanding of the above koan.

    May all sentient beings be peaceful, happy, safe, protected, healthy and strong.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator
    edited June 17

    @misecmisc1 , I think what @genkaku is saying, in his inimitable and agreeable 'story-teller' way is - quit trying.
    There are more pressing things to engage with and to wrestle with, than some oh-so-wise words written for committed Zen students, (let alone anyone else!) who probably have no more concept or understanding of Koans than you or I.

    Furthermore, if you're too lazy to seek answers as directed by the ever-helpful @lobster, from a bona-fide source of information, then quite frankly, I am not inclined to spoon-feed you.

    lobsterHozan
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited June 17

    @federica said:
    @misecmisc1 , I think what @genkaku is saying, in his inimitable and agreeable 'story-teller' way is - quit trying.
    There are more pressing things to engage with and to wrestle with, than some oh-so-wise words written for committed Zen students, (let alone anyone else!) who probably have no more concept or understanding of Koans than you or I.

    Well, as you said regarding the more pressing things to engage with than to study koans, this brought a small smile on my face. Just to tell you that the biggest pressing thing which I have in coming few days is that I will complete my notice period in my current company and then after that, I will be unemployed for the first time in my life with me moving to Aus - a new country, a new culture, a new phase of my life of being unemployed and the biggest struggle of my life to find a new job in a new country. But since future is uncertain, so who knows, may be I can die tonight, so even tomorrow may not come in my life, leave about completion of my current company's notice period which has still few days to complete and then struggling to get a job in Aus will not even come into picture in my life. So for the last 3 weeks, when I have some free time in office and at home (since I have shifted my family from my work city to my native city), I have 2 choices to make to use my time - either I can study something to acquire a new skill in my IT industry work area which may later help me to get a new job in Aus - or - I can try to read spiritual texts, hear dharma talks and try to realize the ultimate reality. So these days, I usually go for the second option of spirituality and these days I have started again with studying koans.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    a new country, a new culture, a new phase of my life

    The past is ungraspable.
    The future is ungraspable.
    And when you get down to it, the present is ungraspable as well.

    Enjoy the kangaroos. :)

    federicaHozan
  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Moderator

    I have to admit in your shoes, this -

    ...I can study something to acquire a new skill in my IT industry work area which may later help me to get a new job in Aus

    ...Would seem to be the far more sensible option.

    This -

    ...I usually go for the second option of spirituality and these days I have started again with studying koans.

    ...Isn't going to go down well in the preliminary interview when they ask you "So what are you doing to improve your knowledge base? Why should we give you a job?"

    Truly, the mind boggles.

  • genkakugenkaku Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran

    ... and never forget my mother's admonition, "Don't get too holy by next Thursday."

  • DhammaDragonDhammaDragon Carpe Diem switzerland Veteran

    What about Haemin Sunim's "The Things you can see only when you slow down" or some book of songs of Milarepa?
    They are excellent reading for times of transition, and will relax your mind rather than set it off in overthinking mode... 🐉💕

    ShoshinHozan
  • gracklegrackle Veteran

    @genkaku. You mothers admonition always give me a good chuckle as well as an appreciation of what appears to be some very practical wisdom.

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