1 - On Zen Koans In the West today the meaning of the word...

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On Zen Koans In the West today the meaning of the word kØan remains unclear or even mysterious. Although the literal translation of kØan is “public case,” a precedent or authoritative document, it does little to elucidate the actual substance and function of kØan practice. A kØan is simply the time and place where Truth is manifest. From the fundamental point of view, there is no time or place where Truth is not revealed: every place, every day, every event, every thought, every deed, and every person is a kØan. In that sense, kØans are neither obscure nor enigmatic. However, a kØan is more commonly understood as a tool for teaching true insight. In the Rinzai Zen sect “kØan study” is the symbiosis of kØan and zazen (meditation) practice as a means to Self-realization. The process begins when a student with some experience of zazen is given a kØan by a teacher. The first kØan is most often JØsh¨’s Mu : A monk asked Master JØsh¨, “Does a dog have Buddha–nature?” Joshu replied, “Mu.” Traditionally, when this kØan is assigned nothing further will be said to the student about it. The teacher will not explain how this short but incomprehensible dialogue is to be worked on, because he recognizes that intellection is the biggest obstacle to Zen experience—at least in the beginning. Nevertheless, the student is expected to present his understanding of the kØan at his next dokusan (one-on- one meeting with the teacher). Not knowing what else to do, a student might offer some explanation about an ancient story of a traveling monk who asked a certain question, to which the master answered “Mu.” To this the teacher will say nothing. His only response will be the ringing of his handbell, signifying, “Go back and work on it some more.” Within a few hours of this first dokusan, the student must return again with a new presentation. So during the intervening periods of zazen he must go over the kØan again and again in order to come up with something. But whatever explanation he offers, the teacher refuses to listen. Each time the student is sent back to the meditation hall with the ringing of the teacher’s bell. This procedure may continue for quite some time before the student begins to realize that kØan study is not intellectual analysis or personal interpretation, but a process of losing oneself in Mu. With this understanding he may one day present his Mu without peripheral explanations. Then, for the first time, the teacher might open his mouth and say, “That’s the way.” Since the student is not taught in the customary classroom manner, and since there are no books to advise him on how to solve his kØan dilemma, it may take a year or more for him to reach this point of understanding. On the surface it may seem that a year has been wasted, but during this process the student has sat time
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1 - On Zen Koans In the West today the meaning of the word...

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