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Zen koans - please help me to understand it

misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a HinduIndia Veteran
edited April 2013 in Buddhism Basics
Hi All,

yesterday i thought of seeing what Zen koans are like and what Zen says about its koans - so i searched about it on internet - i found that it is said that these koans should not be logically tried to solve. also it is said that Zen Buddhism says that the enlightenment can happen at any moment in solving the zen koan and do not need a long meditative process to realize it. also Zen says that to solve the koans, it is needed to just meditate on the koan and the answer shall get revealed.

but how can this happen, do we need to think about the koan in meditation, but then that shall be thinking and getting entangled in thinking, which would not help in making the mind calm.

so anybody having any experience with Zen Buddhism and can help me to understand the above statements - because all the above statements seem like a puzzle to me, which i am not able to understand.

Also, i saw the below koan, which i did not understand completely, so can anyone help me to understand the below Zen koan:
Nansen saw the monks of the eastern and western halls fighting over a cat. He seized the cat and told the monks: `If any of you say a good word, you can save the cat.'
No one answered. So Nansen boldly cut the cat in two pieces.
That evening Joshu returned and Nansen told him about this. Joshu removed his sandals and, placing them on his head, walked out.
Nansen said: `If you had been there, you could have saved the cat.'

Please suggest. Thanks in advance.

Comments

  • BhanteLuckyBhanteLucky Alternative lifestyle person in the South Island of New Zealand New Zealand Veteran
    edited April 2013
    Blue Cliff Record. The best text on koans ever. Might be a bit heavy going though.
  • zenmystezenmyste Veteran Veteran
    I used to go over and over lots of different zen koans, trying to solve them in hope that i become enlightened and then ill know all the answers and everything will be ok and all make sense etc etc.... but one day, when i was visiting a zen centre, i told the teacher about my interest in the koans and told him that i couldnt solve them..

    He then asked me to meditate on another koan for a second;

    "two sisters are crossing the street, which one is the older sister?"

    Suddenly, I began to laugh out loud.. And all my worries and desires, disapeared, for i realized that i 'dont know' which is the older sister AND quite frankly, what does it mattet???

    I shook his hand and went home!
    blu3reeAmeliaBhanteLuckyshanyin
  • MaryAnneMaryAnne Veteran Veteran
    Whenever the topic of Koans comes up, it always reminds me of a conversation with a good friend of mine; we were talking about the whole What Would Jesus Do? bracelet/bumper sticker/t-shirt fad from a decade or so ago.
    So we started playing this little story game;

    We would take turns setting up the most rude, bullying, frustrating exchange or encounter between two people, on the street, or in a classroom, or at a shopping mall, etc. and then ask the other one, "Soooooo.... What WOULD Jesus Do?"

    At one point after the game went on for a while, and after a very long, very elaborate set up, in which the 'victim' seemed to be cornered with no way out, and no clever words to set his abuser back in his place or remedy the situation ... I said, very seriously and solemnly;
    "Jesus would punch that son-of-a-bitch right in the NOSE!!"

    (Well, maybe you had to be there...., but) We must have laughed for 10 minutes... because you know what? Jesus probably WOULD have punched that SOB in the nose. Who's to say he wouldn't have?

    So Now when someone mentions Koans, a scene always comes to my mind of a poor, frustrated, anxiety ridden Buddhist student faced with another of those infuriatingly smug Koan teachers.... and hauling off and punching him one.

    Who knows? It could just be The Answer. ;)




    personmisecmisc1
  • genkakugenkaku Veteran Northampton, Mass. U.S.A. Veteran
    @misecmisc1 -- Traditionally, there are 1,700 formal koans in Zen Buddhism. But tradition and a couple of bucks will get you a bus ride. The fact is that everyone is always awash in koans -- it's just a matter of noticing and opening to them. Formal Zen draws attention to what is frequently ignored ... i.e., you're alive... really alive! No one can solve or explain or find the true meaning of being alive ... but there is no problem living, is there? Not intellectual, not emotional ... just alive: That's what koan study points out.

    A monk asked Joshu, "Does a dog have Buddha Nature or not?" Joshu replied, "Mu!" which means "no" or "not." Since all things have Buddha Nature, what the heck was Joshu getting at? There is no solving this question intellectually and no solving it emotionally ... so how can anyone solve it?

    If you involve yourself with formal koans, then I think it is normal to sit down at first and attack the issue with intellect and emotion. My feeling is, go right ahead: You won't get anywhere, but you will learn a good lesson. So ... bust a gut intellectually or emotionally ... until things start to settle down all by themselves. Then sit straight and still and breathe in and breathe out and just see things straight for once. No fairy dust is required, no super-special Buddhist wand-waving ... just practice and see.

    As to koans that afflict even the non-Buddhists in the crowd, you might consider the very simple line, "I love you." Or wonder a bit about all the wondrous beliefs held in the mind or heart: Beliefs invariably rely on what is past; no one can grasp the past; and yet we all live in the present. The upshot is that our beliefs -- the stuff we may love to death and rely on -- draw us backwards even as we live in the present. This is a recipe for uncertainty and doubt. How can I be 'then' and 'now?' Or there is the formal Zen koan that anyone might wonder about: What is this? Is a "car" a car or a "rock" a rock? What does the car say or the rock? What ... is ... this?

    I trust no one will take my words too seriously. I always sucked at koans.

    Invincible_summermisecmisc1Fosdick
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2013
    Let me see if I can give the same type of talk I used to give to my meditation students when the subject of koans came up, as they always did.

    Koans are fascinating and I have used with them before, but it's important to point out to the people investigating this thing called Zen that (1) not every school of Zen uses koans, or uses them the same way, and (2) the Western student is at a disadvantage because you were not raised in and taught the language of Zen that helps you unlock the koan.

    Koans are not just abstract, paradoxical puzzles with no logical answer designed to drive you mad until with one superhuman effort your mind goes crazy and flips into some Zen state. No, there is no one right answer, since no two people are exactly alike. But neither is the answer any sort of random nonsense your mind kicks up.

    Koans have a language that consists of metaphor and are mostly little plays, acted out and asking you to jump in and continue the action. Each koan is teaching a specific lesson about some aspect of Zen once you approach it with a clear mind, devoid of expectations.

    That does not mean you can "solve" a koan. All you can do is recognize the pattern and respond with a clear mind with your own Zen understanding.

    Let's take the Koan of Nansen and the cat cut in two. You begin to penetrate the koan when you PAY ATTENTION to what's going on, instead of guessing and putting your own bias into it. Zen students are arguing over a cat. What are they arguing about? Maybe where did it come from? Maybe who is responsible for feeding it? Cats eat mice and baby birds, so maybe they were arguing if a cat should be allowed on the temple grounds or if cats get bad karma from killing. The Master catches them arguing over this cat. To teach them a lesson, he says the cat will be cut in two if they can't speak a word of Zen.

    PAY ATTENTION! What is the important element in this scene? What is it actually about? Is the cat important? Is the knife important? Are the Noble Truths and vows against killing important? The students are arguing over a cat, but it could be anything. How stupid! Is this Zen? Can Zen be found in logic and arguments? The Master demands "words of Zen" and all these students lock up. Of course they did. There is no such thing as "words of Zen". All that arguing before was not Zen. Each student with their carefully chosen and cherished words that they'd defended a moment before suddenly found themselves with empty mouths and minds.

    But that's OK. Silence is also Zen. But it's not the silence of indecision as you try to find a response needed. Zen is action. Clear mind sees correct situation. Joshu was also silent, but still acted.

    Now, the language that unlocks the koan is seeing the metaphor of the knife cutting in two. This is the mind separating itself from the situation around you. It's thinking about the world instead of living it. It's having an idea of what a cat should be separate from the reality of what a cat is.

    The cat is you. The cat is your mind. If you speak a word that is not Zen it cuts the cat in two. Yet you are commanded to speak! So what do you say? What words of Zen will keep your mind from cutting itself in two? Dogen once remarked that he would have said, "You know how to cut a cat in two. Cut it into one, instead!"

    NOW try meditating on the koan, and see what you can do with it.



    Invincible_summermisecmisc1zenff
  • taiyakitaiyaki Veteran Veteran
    The cat koan has to do with action as wisdom.

    Koans point to different aspects of reality.

    Some the clarity, some the emptiness, and some function.

    The cat koan requires one to recognize the all accomplishing wisdom. This is the same as the zen master slapping the ground or shouting katz.

    The monks were attached to non-conceptuality and emptiness, thus abiding in stagnant waters.

    To say anything would also be a mistake as well.

    Clear function is clear mind and clear mind is cut throat response without this or that.
    Cinorjer
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran Veteran
    Koans are an insight practice. You'll probably have better luck with them after spending a while developing stable concentration with basic breath meditation.
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran
    My teachers says this about koans. "I can tell you all the answers to all the koans but that still won't help you answer them". LOL

    If a zen master can't help you answer them, I doubt anyone here really can help you. Especially with Nansen's Cat, which is said to be a more "advanced" koan. Not really an appropriate one for someone who is just starting with koans. In our zen school there are "12 gates" of koans. Each gate get progressively more difficult. Nansen's Cat is # 9 of 12. Definitely not a "beginner" koan. #1 is the Dog Buddha nature Mu koan otherwise known as a "break-through" koan. One hand clapping is another common break-through koan

    No one can help you understand Nansen's Cat. The understanding of it comes up as a fruit of practice or as a byproduct of acquiring insight or wisdom, etc. Understanding Nansen's Cat requires wisdom, and no one can simply give you wisdom, not even a zen master.

    A zen teacher gives you a koan that is appropriate to your level of experience, so to speak. Traditionally in zen practice, koan practice is not done without a teacher directing the practice. One of the reasons is because it's quite easy to think you got the right answer when you are not even close to it. This happens all the time! Koans are essentially a "teaching technique" utilized by teachers. Without a teacher, you are essentially missing half of the practice. That does not mean that doing koan practice without a teacher is bad or harmful or that it's can't be helpful. It just means that it's, usually, not nearly as helpful as it designed to be.

    Hua-T’ou practice on the other hand utilizes koans or parts of them as a meditation object and is much less dependent on a teacher as actual koan practice is. This is a good article on it here and explains what you actually do when you do Hua-T’ou practice, which is very similar to koan practice. http://www.hsuyun.org/en/essays/bychuanzhi/759-huatoupractice.html




    riverflowmisecmisc1Toshlobster
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2013
    Demystifying koans from a recovering Zenaholic's perspective..

    Koan study is just the illumination of one's self and it's adversarial relationship with existence.

    Just as the Abhidharma claims the Buddha sometimes advised monks to take for the object of their meditation, their prime object attachment in life, so as to come face to face with the innate unsatisfactoriness of it, so too do Koan teachers offer thought defying riddles to those who think they are their minds, to illuminate the underlying unsatisfactoriness of attaching to such a self/mind identity.

    To solve the koan, is to just let go of a self that could lay claim to such a thing.

    Cinorjerriverflowmisecmisc1
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran
    The story is recounted in 1Kings 3:16-28. Two young women who lived in the same house and who both had an infant son came to Solomon for a judgement. One of the women claimed that the other, after accidentally smothering her own son while sleeping, had exchanged the two children to make it appear that the living child was hers. The other woman denied this and so both women claimed to be the mother of the living son and said that the dead boy belonged to the other.
    After some deliberation, King Solomon called for a sword to be brought before him. He declared that there was only one fair solution: the live son must be split in two, each woman receiving half of the child. The liar, in her bitter jealousy, exclaimed, "It shall be neither mine nor yours—divide it!" However, upon hearing this terrible verdict, the boy's true mother cried out, "Oh Lord, give the baby to her, just don't kill him!" The king gave the baby to the real mother. King Solomon's judgement became known throughout all of Israel and was considered an example of profound wisdom.


    Keep your cats, children and swords away from the Koan brothers and their 'skilful' matrix . . .
    Seems like a terrible waste of a good cat but then maybe you had to be there . . .

    riverflowmisecmisc1blu3reeFosdick
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    Hi All,

    Thanks all for your replies.
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    @genkaku: seems like you have a good understanding of koans. will ask you further questions as i bang my head :banghead: after coming across other koans.
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited April 2013
    @Cinorjer: Thanks for your dhamma talk. sadhu sadhu sadhu.

    But, some parts of your talk, i was not able to understand :confused: , so asking you below:
    Now, the language that unlocks the koan is seeing the metaphor of the knife cutting in two. This is the mind separating itself from the situation around you. It's thinking about the world instead of living it. It's having an idea of what a cat should be separate from the reality of what a cat is.
    Can you please explain this paragraph and the last line in slightly more detail?
    some more questions - there was a cat right, over which the two groups of monks argued - or was there no cat even?
    if there was a cat and it was a living creature, why did Nansen just not left the cat alive after none of the groups said anything - was is not killing the cat and breaking a precept - or was teaching something more important than life of a sentient being like cat?
    joshu put the sandal on his head - why did he did this act and why nansen on seeing it said that if joshu was there, he could have saved the cat?
    The cat is you. The cat is your mind. If you speak a word that is not Zen it cuts the cat in two. Yet you are commanded to speak! So what do you say? What words of Zen will keep your mind from cutting itself in two? Dogen once remarked that he would have said, "You know how to cut a cat in two. Cut it into one, instead!"
    is there no good word, which can be recognized as word of Zen, except silence? from a conventional reality perspective, without words we cannot express ourselves, but using words is in a way grasping - but if we consider ultimate reality perspective, then since it is all emptiness, we cannot do most of the things even eating, because to eat also, we first have to understand what is eatable and what is not eatable, so in a way holding onto some aspects to define a thing comes into picture, leading to subject-object story.

    What was Dogen saying by - cutting the cat in one instead - how can the cat be cut in one?

    may be you would have understood by now that i am a complete idiot, and no way even near to understanding this koan, leave aside trying to find an answer to it. but please bear with me and let me know the answers to above questions. if the questions seem irrelevant, then please explain how it is irrelevant, may be i have not even understood the koan till now completely. Thanks for explaining in advance.
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited April 2013
    @seeker242: thanks for the information about the gates in koans. also i read that koan about dog having Buddha-nature - it was having the answer - Mu. i thought it was very complex and when you told about the 12 gates, i thought that this dog Mu koan shall be the last gate, but when you said it was the first gate, i understood that if there was a physical gate of this first gate, then if i went at that gate, then there would be a board displaying a message for me - no entry allowed :facepalm:

    i was able to read and understand the first 2 lines of this cat koan, so thought of trying to understand it, but the last 2 lines went one foot over my head - something like just after the whistle to start a football match was blown, immediately after it, i was shown a red card for arriving at the football ground to play the match :-/

    anyways, thanks for the hua-tao practice link, let me see if i can try to do it.
  • FlorianFlorian Veteran Veteran
    I see Joshu's Mu as being about nonduality. But I do not know if this is correct, and even it is, just saying that it is isn't going to be of any use to anyone. If we cannot solve a koan and someone gives us the answer then we still cannot solve it.

    For many koans it seems useful to view them as similar to metaphysical questions (or vice versa). For example, the question, Did the universe begin with Something or Nothing? seems to mirror the form of some koans. Neither answer works so the answer is no. But the answer leaves us in much the same position as Joshu's Mu.

    I am not a koan student, however, so this is just inexpert waffling.


  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2013

    @Cinorjer: Thanks for your dhamma talk. sadhu sadhu sadhu.

    But, some parts of your talk, i was not able to understand :confused: , so asking you below:

    Now, the language that unlocks the koan is seeing the metaphor of the knife cutting in two. This is the mind separating itself from the situation around you. It's thinking about the world instead of living it. It's having an idea of what a cat should be separate from the reality of what a cat is.
    Can you please explain this paragraph and the last line in slightly more detail?
    some more questions - there was a cat right, over which the two groups of monks argued - or was there no cat even?
    if there was a cat and it was a living creature, why did Nansen just not left the cat alive after none of the groups said anything - was is not killing the cat and breaking a precept - or was teaching something more important than life of a sentient being like cat?
    joshu put the sandal on his head - why did he did this act and why nansen on seeing it said that if joshu was there, he could have saved the cat?


    Hee. You're chewing on the koan, which is fine. That's necessary and I spent many hours on the mat chewing on koans. Let's go over a few of the points again. I can't do your chewing for you, but perhaps I can help.

    First, as to the cat. The cat isn't important except it grabs people's minds and distracts them from what's really important in the story. The monks could have been arguing over a piece of paper that Nansen threatened to tear in two, but then the koan would have lost its power. Yes, there was a cat in the story, but on the other hand, the cat stands for something else at the same time. Did the story actually happen and did a cute little kitten get cut in half? Maybe, maybe not. Again, your mind is focusing on the wrong thing. The koan isn't exploring the morality of killing cats.

    The cat may not have existed, but the koan exists. So the question is not, was Nansen's actions right or wrong? Ask What were Zen students doing wrong, instead. And later on we are again trapped into focusing on why Joshu put a sandal on top of his head. Unimportant. You can't ask Joshu what he meant by it now. The point is, he didn't try to give Nansen "words of zen" using arguments out of a mind cut in two. Joshu showed Nansen what he was looking for. A mind not cut in two.

    Now, we move to an important question in your letter. Zen goes on a lot about duality. There is the reality of the world around you, and the idea in your mind of what that world is. Many koans like this one poke and prod at the concept of duality and how our minds are fooled by the illusion of mistaking our idea of the world with the reality. The journey to comprehending this Zen point is illustrated in the famous saying, "At first trees are trees and mountains are mountains. Then trees are not trees and mountains are not mountains. Then trees are trees again and mountains are mountains."

    As for Joshu, he understood the cat was already cut in half before Nansen ever appeared. What Nansen wanted was for his students to demonstrate a mind not cut in half. To put the cat back together. To "cut into one".

    And I'm certain all I've done is given you more to chew on. Chewing is good. You have to chew before you swallow. And even if I could, I would not rob you of that wonderful "Aha!" moment when it starts to become clear.
    misecmisc1
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran
    The cat may not have existed
    All zen monasteries should be issued with Schrödinger's cat
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schrödinger's_cat

    . . . normal service is now resumed . . .
    Cinorjermisecmisc1riverflow
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    NOW try meditating on the koan, and see what you can do with it.
    @Cinorjer: Can you also explain how to meditate on the koan? means, what should i do - should i keep on thinking about the koan's statements by repeating them in my mind - but will that not give me headache, instead of giving me some answer. well, what i am doing in my meditation i can tell - my meditation is having no concentration, no mindfulness, so in a way it is not even meditation, rather just sitting. so these days i just sit and try to be in present moment feeling whatever is arising in present moment, trying to keep breath at front. now to meditate on koan, what should i do extra in above or is it a complete different method to meditate on koan? please tell. thanks in advance.

    Also, thanks for the above explanations of nansen's cat koan.
  • lamaramadingdonglamaramadingdong Veteran Veteran
    The sister pushing the other one in the stroller is older.
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    @misecmisc1 I would suggest if you want to try meditating on a koan by yourself, try something fundamental like "What am I?" but otherwise for solitary meditation, quiet mind is probably best. See, koans are part of a "Teacher-Student" dynamic and whatever insight or answer you find, you have to test against the Teacher who will either tell you to try again, or say it's a correct answer and give you another one.

    For meditation on a koan, you have a question at the end of the koan, or maybe the koan consists of only the question. You ask yourself that question and continue to focus on that until it becomes your entire mind. Now in reality, the Teacher sometimes feels sorry for the student if he or she is struggling and never gets anywhere on the early koans and gets discouraged, and tells the student the answer is fine when the understanding is still not quite there. And the students do talk to each other a lot about the various koans, even though they're not really supposed to.

    You want to know my own personal opinion, after all that struggling? Koans are over-rated. They evolved from the civil service oral exams that every Chinese and Japanese monk was very familiar with. They work if you are familiar enough with the culture to comprehend what they are trying to say and do. For a Japanese monk, the dharma combat format and ritual of the koan challenge is part of an overall practice that we lack.

    So koans aren't useless to the West, but not necessary either. The above poster with an example of a Western koan of "Two women cross the road. Which one is the older?" shows how these might work across cultures. The koan is designed to teach you it's all right to say, "I don't know!" and get past lectures and words to the direct experience of simply not knowing and saying that. "I don't know" is just as valid a response as all our opinions and beliefs.

    riverflowVastmindmisecmisc1zenff
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited April 2013
    @Cinorjer: Thanks for your reply.

    Hi All,
    So, what does Zen Buddhism has as its goal? i am asking this question, because if i see some koans and their explanations on the internet, then i see they are suggesting towards non-duality - that all experience is one - there should be no discrimination and we should try to live in present moment only. So does Zen Buddhism try to reach emptiness - i think it does, but may be it is pointing to something else also.

    let me ask another question - as per Zen Buddhism, how should we live our life? if Zen says to live by always being in present moment - is this possible to do? i don't think it is possible because to live we have to at least eat, but eating will involve grasping on food objects as eatable food objects and other objects as non-eatable food objects - thus raising the subject-object duality. So can we even live by always being in present moment? may be i am stupid to ask such idiotic questions, but still asking all so that i can get your suggestions about the above questions - if the questions seem irrelevant, please explain how it is irrelevant.

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions.
  • lobsterlobster Veteran Veteran
    My teachers says this about koans. "I can tell you all the answers to all the koans but that still won't help you answer them".
    as @misecmisc1 says it is part of a prescriptive interaction, not the solving of riddles. A more appropriate solo channel is also suggested . . .

    Zen Masters are not available on e-bay, so try and live within your means.

    Have you been through this service/interaction?
    http://www.liberationunleashed.com/
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2013

    @Cinorjer: Thanks for your reply.

    Hi All,
    So, what does Zen Buddhism has as its goal? i am asking this question, because if i see some koans and their explanations on the internet, then i see they are suggesting towards non-duality - that all experience is one - there should be no discrimination and we should try to live in present moment only. So does Zen Buddhism try to reach emptiness - i think it does, but may be it is pointing to something else also.

    let me ask another question - as per Zen Buddhism, how should we live our life? if Zen says to live by always being in present moment - is this possible to do? i don't think it is possible because to live we have to at least eat, but eating will involve grasping on food objects as eatable food objects and other objects as non-eatable food objects - thus raising the subject-object duality. So can we even live by always being in present moment? may be i am stupid to ask such idiotic questions, but still asking all so that i can get your suggestions about the above questions - if the questions seem irrelevant, please explain how it is irrelevant.

    Thanks in advance for your suggestions.

    "A special transmission outside of the sutras;
    No dependence on words and letters;
    Direct pointing to the mind;
    Seeing into one's nature and realizing Buddhahood." (Bodhidharma)

    "Zen is very simple: What are you?" (Master Seung Sahn)

    Zen Buddhism is a practice that primarily uses meditation to bring the Buddhist to a direct, intuitive understanding of their inherent Buddha-Nature. Zen Teachers don't consider their job is to teach you what the Buddha said or have you memorize what the ancient sutras claim is Buddhism, but instead attempt to guide you on a journey of discovery into the nature of your mind and let you discover your own Buddha-Nature. Because of this, the various Teachers can use vastly different language and methods to transmit their own understanding of the Dharma. That doesn't mean the teachings passed down aren't important, only they're not sufficient. Someone can memorize and recite every word of Buddha and not use those words to make one little change in their life.

    Like any practice, Zen has evolved its own language and structure. Concepts like Mindfulness, No-self, Emptiness, Illusion, Non-Duality and even Buddha-Nature are stressed and endlessly discussed. I've often said that Zen claims it cannot be described in words but there are hundreds of sutras written by Zen Buddhists telling you how words aren't important.

    And like a lot of Buddhism, the terms used in Zen are often misunderstood. Mindfulness, for instance, is simply paying attention to what's going on around you this moment. If you're driving a car, pay attention to what you're doing. If you're washing dishes, pay attention to what your hands are doing. If you're talking to someone, pay attention to what they're saying. Meditation is paying attention to what's going on inside you. When what's going on outside and inside match, you have Zen Mind, or Clear Mind.

    The other concepts like Emptiness probably deserve their own thread.

    Zen has its problems and critiques. For one thing, such a heavy reliance on the Zen Master as the authority to translate the Dharma and use their own unique understanding to guide you means it's subject to abuse and people end up devoted to their Teacher and ignore troubling behavior because "we can't judge how enlightened minds work". In particular in the West we've bought into the myth of the Enlightened Master. Also, Zen does have rules of conduct but morality can be ignored by people who misuse the Non-Duality teaching to say good and evil are both illusion, because "that's all duality, don't you know?"

    misecmisc1riverflow
  • SabreSabre Veteran Veteran
    The answer is: He probably doesn't like cats. And the other guy can't tell his head from his feet. :p
    misecmisc1Cinorjer
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran



    Hi All,
    So, what does Zen Buddhism has as its goal?

    To see your true nature and get enlightenment. :)
    let me ask another question - as per Zen Buddhism, how should we live our life? if Zen says to live by always being in present moment - is this possible to do?
    Yes it is. But even grasping the present is a mistake. Zen Master Huang-po says:

    "Without the discrimination between self and others, one lives in the world, not deluded by anything at all. This is a genuinely free person whose thinking is beyond name and form. Transcending the three periods of thought, he understands that the previous period has not passed, the present period does not stay, and that the future period will not come. Sitting properly and peacefully, not bound by the world, this alone is called liberation!"
    i don't think it is possible because to live we have to at least eat, but eating will involve grasping on food objects as eatable food objects and other objects as non-eatable food objects - thus raising the subject-object duality.
    This "nonduality" does not mean that you can't distinguish between a coffee table and an apple. Distinguishing between a coffee table and an apple is not "grasping", it's simply reality. The Sixth Patriarch says:

    “Good Knowing Advisors, this Dharma-door of mine,
    from the past onwards, has been established from the
    first with no-thought as its doctrine, no-mark as its
    substance, and no-dwelling as its basis. No-mark means
    to be apart from marks while in the midst of marks. No thought
    means to be without thought while in the midst
    of thought. No-dwelling is the basic nature of human
    beings.
    It's all about not grasping. AKA "to be apart from marks while in the midst of marks".

    So can we even live by always being in present moment?
    Yes, just as long as you are not grasping. So when you do zazen meditation, you are learning what grasping actually is and how to stop doing it, just by sitting there and breathing in and out. When you do zazen, you can see grasping happening in real time and you can see the stopping of grasping happen in real time.





    misecmisc1
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    @seeker242: Thanks for your wonderful reply.
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran Veteran

    let me ask another question - as per Zen Buddhism, how should we live our life? if Zen says to live by always being in present moment - is this possible to do? i don't think it is possible because to live we have to at least eat, but eating will involve grasping on food objects as eatable food objects and other objects as non-eatable food objects - thus raising the subject-object duality. So can we even live by always being in present moment? may be i am stupid to ask such idiotic questions, but still asking all so that i can get your suggestions about the above questions - if the questions seem irrelevant, please explain how it is irrelevant.

    I have a theory that this is why the Theravadin tradition says that an arahant (fully enlightened person) will die unless they ordain within seven days, because full enlightenment implies abandoning the struggle for survival, which means death without something like the external structure of the Sangha to take the struggle over.
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited April 2013
    Hi All,

    i found another zen koan on internet, which is below:

    Tou-shuai Yue set up three barriers for his students:
    First: When you hack through the underbrush searching for the truth you find your self-nature. Right now, where is your self-nature?
    Second: Realizing your self-nature, you are free from birth and death. When your life is ending, how will you be free?
    Third: When you are free from birth and death you will know where to go. When the four elements scatter, where will you go?

    i think it is a profound koan, because its questions seem interesting, but i do not understand the questions even. will someone like to explain the above koan, please? thanks in advance.
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    edited April 2013
    The first step is to stop over thinking everything.
    The koans are just aids to letting go of a mind/thought identity attachment or dependence.
    To do this involves abandoning the self protection program that underpins all identity. All it is asking you to do is to allow yourself to be uncomfortably vulnerable rather than to hide behind ones defensive identity.

    Unless one pays this price, there is little hope of freedom.
    Of coarse for most, freedom is just too threatening.
    riverflow
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    As @how says, you're overthinking things. How about this time, can you give us your best answers to the questions the koan asks? Even if they're not satisfactory in some way. Tell us what point or direction you think the koan is trying to move you to.

    Your answer, from your own understanding, is much more important than anything I might say.
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    @Cinorjer: ok. but yesterday i found a commentary on it on internet - i have read it yesterday, though currently i do not remember everything what was written for their explanations and their answers. so if i try to think about the answers to these questions, that will be a sort of cheating - so should i still try to answer these questions - or do you think now answering these questions will not be of any use, as yesterday i have read its explanations by someone, though i do not remember it completely currently. so should i still try to answer these questions? please tell.
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    "When you hack through the underbrush searching for the truth you find your self-nature. Right now, where is your self-nature?"

    Forget about learned and traditional and other people's answers. Take the first question. Forget about what sort of answer I might have. So, you're looking around for your "self-nature" or otherwise trying to discover a better and happier "you" that Buddhism says you can attain. Where is this happier "you" that you're looking for? Where is it right now, while you're looking for it?" Just give me your best shot at your answer.

    how
  • misecmisc1misecmisc1 I am a Hindu India Veteran
    edited April 2013
    Where is this happier "you" that you're looking for? Where is it right now, while you're looking for it?" Just give me your best shot at your answer.
    @Cinorjer: hmm. i have been put into question-box now. ok. so let me be honest now. may be this be some sort of babbling going on in my mind now - in order to try to answer this question. so please bear with me for this so called prapancha of my mind.

    i am temporarily removing all thoughts of Self-Realization of Hinduism now.
    i am temporarily removing all theories of anicca, dukkha, anatta of Buddha's teachings now.
    i will try to honestly answer the question by writing as my mind is thinking about it currently.

    now - what is 'I' as per me? 'I' is my body and my mind taking in total. now my body is made up of skin, blood, bone, muscle etc - which is matter - so I cannot be my body, because i am conscious and matter is not conscious(as far as i have seen). so this reduces that 'I' should be in my mind.

    Now coming to my 'true nature' or my happier 'I', it should be inside me and not outside me - it is not my body - so my 'true nature' or my happier 'I' can be in my mind.

    now if there is 'I' and happier 'I' both in my mind, this is not possible, because how can there be two 'I' - one course and one refined in me. if there are two 'I' then since 'I' is a single entity, which is me, so there cannot be two 'I' in my mind. So this leads to the conclusion that both 'I' and happier 'I' are same - but if they are same it means, whatever I think I am, that is my happier 'I' or my 'true nature' also. But this seems weird to me because if I am my 'true nature' - how can this be - because currently I am defiled with lust, greed, hatred, pride, attachment, anger (at least these i know i am defiled with) - So how can a defiled 'I' and happier 'I' be the same? But they cannot be different also because 'I' is only one.

    So now I am stuck, so I will have to say - I don't know. But at least, I will say my happier 'I' or my 'true nature' is inside my mind. having written this thing, when i was reading this statement, a thought came to my mind - how do i know it is inside my mind - can i be outside of my mind? if it is outside my mind - like some metaphysical object, which i cannot perceive through my 5 senses, then how can i say it is inside or outside of my mind - this lead to another thought, which came to me - What is 'I'? i do not even know what is 'I' - so how can I say whether 'I' is inside my mind or outside my mind.

    Sorry, i think may be you will find that whatever is written above is all rubbish - but on reading your post, I thought to write just whatever came to my mind, without philosophizing any of the concepts, which i have read anywhere.

    But thanks, for leading me to think about the first question - now i think i even do not know - what is 'I'? leave aside where is 'I'.

    Please let me know how should i proceed to think about the above question and also the first question of koan in right direction. Thanks in advance for your help in this regard.

    Just now i re-read my post and i found that i started with the question, with which I ended - What is 'I'? :banghead: Damn, i am a complete idiot person, who does not even know what is 'I'.
  • fivebellsfivebells Veteran Veteran
    "What is 'I'"? Is an excellent question. Try this: do 10 minutes of metta meditation, followed by 10 minutes of basic breath meditation. Then rest your attention on this question for five minutes, or until your attention starts to break down. What I mean by "rest your attention" is the same as in basic breath meditation, except the question becomes the object of attention. You don't need to answer it, and you don't need to follow any thoughts about answers which come up, just note what comes up and let it go as usual. If you find that your attention is no longer on the question, bring it back to the question, just as with the breath.

    If the preliminary metta and breath meditation left your mind sufficiently stable, a sense of great stillness and rest may arise. If that happens, you can drop the koan as the object of attention. If not, you should take time to further develop your skills with metta and breath meditation, and try the koan later when you are more capable of fashioning a stable mind.

    This is how you work a koan. When a student tells their teacher an answer to a koan, that may well be a useful diagnostic of the student's progress. But getting the right answer is not the ultimate point. The goal is the transformation I just described, via the insight practice which holding the koan question implicitly involves.

    Anyway, try that and let us know how it goes if you like. I'm pretty sure it'll be way more useful and interesting than all this speculation.
    misecmisc1
  • howhow Veteran Veteran
    My idiot has always been that which thinks there is a being to know.
    Let these questions perculate through all the various events in your day.
    See where you remember to check them out and where you don't.

  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran Veteran
    @misecmisc1 You say "So now I am stuck, so I will have to say - I don't know."

    Marvelous! "I don't know." Such powerful words. That is the starting point I hoped you would find. I cannot stress how important this "don't know" mind can be. As @fivebells also points out, the "What am I?" question shows up at the heart of many koans and that shows you're working in the right direction.

    misecmisc1
  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran



    Please let me know how should i proceed to think about the above question

    For these "what am I " type of questions, I have always found this description helpful. :) The way to think about it, is to hold the "word-head" but not the "word-tail".
    “What is hua t’ou? (AKA word-head). Word is the spoken word and head is that which precedes word. For instance, when one says ‘Amitâbha-Buddha’, this is a word. Before it is said it is a hua t’ou (or ante-word). That which is called a hua t’ou is the moment before a thought arises. As soon as a though arises, it become a hua wei (AKA. word-tail). The moment before a thought arises is called ‘the un-born’. That void which is neither disturbed nor dull, and neither still nor (one-sided) is called ‘the unending’. The unremitting turning of the light inwards on oneself, instant after instant, and exclusive of all other things, is called ‘looking into the hua t’ou or ‘taking care of the hua t’ou’

    The hua-t’ou is meant to get us to stop engaging with internal words and images, and the outside world. All of this can we summed up as being hua-wei. We are not interested in interfacing with hua-wei reality. Using the koan, Joshu’s Dog from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, it will now be easy to understand how the koan works.

    “A MONK ASKED Joshu, a Chinese Zen master: “Has a dog Buddha-nature or not?” Joshu answered: “Mu.” [Mu is the negative symbol in Chinese, meaning “No thing” or “Nay.”]”

    Mu is really twofold, it is hua-wei and hua-t’ou. If you subvocalize Mu or say it outloud, you are engaged with hua-wei and birth and death. You’re clueless as to what Buddha-nature really is which is immortal. If, on the other hand, you can catch a glimpse of what is most primordial, unborn, the first principle, ultimate reality as that which is beyond space, time and phenomena, you have a good idea of the role of hua-t’ou in koans—and Buddha-nature.


    misecmisc1
  • catweaselcatweasel Explorer Explorer

    Do you believe the sky is blue ? why ? It is part of the common conditioning that requires no language . The demonstration is quite simple . He did not need his sandals , he did not need the cat . The cat had become a pet , therefore an attachment.

  • federicafederica seeker of the clear blue sky Its better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt Moderator
    edited February 25

    @catweasel. please note:

    This thread is 6 years old.... the OP hasn't posted in quite a while....

This discussion has been closed.