Discussion of Japanese Rinzai Zen (臨済宗) including Obaku Zen (黄檗宗).
Would you say it is harmful to "study" (e.g. read about history, commentaries, etc.) the koans before engaging
in proper koan practice? Is it better to put these things aside till the day one has the right teacher?
I have done so this far, but recently I find it exciting to read about koans, even though "I dont understand" anything, really.
In the context of Rinzai practice, I'd generally say it's fine to do so. But just read the cases and commentaries without attempting to grasp them in any way. No need to interpret, attempt to discern Buddhist principles or meaning, or get hung up on specific words. Just allow the energy or feeling [kiai] of each encounter to percolate in you.
If done in this way, there will be no obstacles created which might later hinder formal koan practice.
Regarding koan collections, there are the classics of course. But from the standpoint of dynamic, experiential embodiment - and for raw entertainment value - i also recommend the Shonan Kattoroku. This is a largely a record of encounters between emigre Chinese Chan teachers and their (at times uncultured) Japanese pupils in the Kamakura era; these were recorded and later taken up as koan in some lines. The text has been translated by Legget as The Warrior Koans: Early Zen in Japan and is on Amazon. I've also seen it in search results as a .pdf under the title Samurai Zen: the Warrior Koans.
Thank you, Meido.
I actually have that book already on my drive, but never touched it. I was reading random sections from Andrew Ferguson's Zen's Chinese Heritage - I am sure you know the book.
I would say I did manage to look at the stories with the kind of attention you described, but sometimes I
catch myself feeling irritated or bored - that must come from tiring of unsuccessful analysis and grasping, mustn't it.
But in general I just feel some sort of affinity with these stories and their milieu. Which is great, I guess.
That's a nice collection that I wasn't aware of. I'm perusing the pdf version now. I particularly like this response from case 7: "Q: What is Zen? A: The heart of the one who asks is Zen..."
Online here: http://terebess.hu/zen/mesterek/Samurai-Zen.pdf
Many jewels in that collection.
Folks who might be put off by the English title "Samurai Zen" need not be...except perhaps that many of the anecdotes point out a certain vitality that can be lacking in practitioners of any era.
But the collection has nothing to do with so-called Bushido, militarism or the like as understood 700 or 800 years later in the light of 19th-20th century happenings.
No. 90 is a personal favorite. It's quite important for a number of reasons.
Oh, that's the website of a Hungarian called Gabor Terebess, said to be the first one from Eastern Europe to become formally a Zen priest (in 1967). I don't know if thats true or not. Anyway he is a great "orientalist", quite famous in our little country.
More info about his ordination in English here:
meido, that's a nice koan.
Founder and teacher of Tallahassee Chan Center of the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism
Received inka from Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) in 1995
Why? The comments in the text say that the "little matter of killing and bringing back to life" is of no consequence by itself.
If you're interested in martial arts, look for an essay by Omori Sogen Roshi titled "Zen and Budo". In it he says that Budo (martial Ways) which take as their object some goal outside oneself - defeating others, gaining strength or health, developing bravery, and so on - are not worthy of discussion or comparison with Zen. In fact, they are ultimately nothing more than chikusho heiho ("beastly tactics", i.e. something that does not rise above animal instinct and self-concern). This has the same meaning.
The important question is whether or not we each can die completely and come back to life.
Best not to wait and depend on the shout given by the priest at our funerals.
Well, defeating others is most often simply the product of training to defeat others. The ability to strike down and revive with a shout is something that can be attained without realization. It is because martial ways are not often practiced as Ways worthy of comparing with Zen that the notes to that koan state,
I think you grasp this concept. But because you asked about martial artists today being able to strike and revive, my point was just to return to the more important thing this koan can remind us, reading it casually as we're doing: that we each must personally grasp what is meant by dying and returning to life in Zen.
If we can do this, the rest is not so important. If we cannot do this, the rest is not so important. If we can do this, we will at least be able to know the function of the katsu shout in Zen...regardless of whether or not our training and power is sufficient that we could ourselves use it to "resolve Ignorance and open up realization" for others.
Yes, of course.
No problem, there are many interesting things around. With realization as the root, we can enjoy branches without number.
Thank you. Such words are rarely heard even by the ears of a practitioner, and what the ears communicate to.
Strong practice, All,
Sometimes koan looks mysterious because it doesn't provide us with enough information.
For modern readers, we may lack the situation/atmosphere at that moment, and this can contribute to our confusion.
In case we know the background or situation at that period, probably it is easier. To substitute this missing information, I think commentaries/histories are important.
For example, in the Gateless Gate, Case No. 2, there is this statement:
Hyakujo clapped his hands with a laugh and exclaimed, "I was thinking that the barbarian had a red beard, but now I see before me the red-bearded barbarian himself."
What do you mean???????
In the commentaries, it explains:
At that period, the chinese have this notion that Indians and Persians were considered barbarians. Sakyamuni and Bodhidharma are both Indians; therefore, the red beard can refer to Bodhidharma. If we change the sentence, it becomes like:
"I thought Bodhidharma was red-bearded, but now I see before me a red-bearded Bodhidharma himself."
That statement can be understood.
So, sometimes we can't understand not because we don't have ability, but because we don't have enough information. The role of commentaries then becomes important to provide more information.
I won't say it is harmful to read the history or commentaries of the koan. Probably, it is necessary to complement the missing information.
Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.
I did not say there is no one today who can use this koan.
But leaving aside for a moment the factors which determine if this koan is a suitable tool for someone: "attempt" as used in the text means to use the koan in the manner it was intended to be used, i.e. in koan kufu. This means to be given it by one's teacher, and then to examine it under his/her guidance, entering into the dokusan room again and again. Also, this is not a beginner's koan: it would be taken up after some experience of training and realization under one's master.
So no, this koan cannot be attempted by everyone.
But again, since we are not doing koan kufu here, I've stressed the valuable point relevant to all of us: that in Zen we each must have the actual experience of dying the Great Death and returning to a new life. Until we do that we can shout all we want - with effect or not - but we will have no idea what Zen is.
That means any koan can be solved/attempted by anyone who has the furious energy in the Way, isn't it?
Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.
TD, et al.,
I recall the requirements for koan practice with my Teacher:
Great faith (in the method; in oneself; in the Three Jewels; and in one's Teacher);
Great doubt (or spirit and energy of inquiry);
Great determination ("GO for it!").
The other "constant" is that koan practice be done closely with your Teacher. Not otherwise. "Otherwise" is not koan practice.
And I would say that, for all interested, there are not "attempts" -- there is practice.
I don't come to the conclusion that your understanding depends on teacher alone.
If this living teacher teaches you about mu, and you hold into it, this is same with your read somewhere, and you hold into it.
Many times in Zen story, we can see the student got the answer when the teacher was not beside him, he may have even moved to another place.
I don't mean living teacher is not important. I just want to say is the teaching is equal to his present.
As long as you have the teaching, there is no reason you can't succeed if you don't see him.
When we read the koan, we look into ourselves, not a teacher.
What can a teacher do when you ask him the meaning of mu?????
The teacher is already there in form of text, what else do you need?
If you see him, what can he do besides parroting that text to you?
Through nonconceptuality, he is immovable.
You ask good questions, but these are the questions to ask your teacher.
(the teacher is not there in the form of text; that is a Vanity. This means that you are supposing that you know or understand what the teaching is, and you believe it resides in the text! That is "exactly wrong". Teaching begins when there is no mind that gets in the way of the teaching. And this teaching occurs only from another human being, ...who is ...the teacher. Can you understand this? Of course you cannot. No one can, before they receive teaching, and no one would believe it, either. So, we don't talk about it. The koan -- if there is any koan -- is only a tool, not a teaching. The teacher carries the teaching, and is always trying to tap you on the shoulder about it. But, are you present, before the teacher? Probably not, not yet. To say more than this is to say too much, ...so...),
That would be "telling". We're not IN that business, as Dharma Brothers (are we?).
No, it's you who must ask your teacher. Or, your teacher who must ask you (something). I'm just one who has been in the system for a while. No, I don't mean the Criminal Justice System. But, OK.
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